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NEA 'IDEA Brief' #3

NEA members ask:

Why is mandatory full funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) so critical?

Why is mandatory full funding for IDEA a national priority?

In 1975, our country took a major step forward in promoting the inclusion and equality of one of our most disenfranchised groups of students. Passage of what now is known as IDEA assured that all children with disabilities would receive a free, appropriate public education. Furthermore, when Congress passed this law, it promised to pay 40 percent of the cost of special education services. Today, approximately 6.8 million children (12 percent of public school students) receive special education services1 . Yet federal funding to provide those services is at only 19 percent -- far short of the 40 percent promised almost thirty years ago.

Despite the positive influence of IDEA on public education, the federal government’s failure to fully fund IDEA forces states and local taxpayers to pay for a greater share of expenses.  With the current $11 billion federal funding shortfall, districts have been forced to reduce services under their general education budget as they redirect dollars to cover the lack of full funding for IDEA.

I’ve heard that there have been recent increases in IDEA funding. Is there still a shortfall?

In the 28-year history of IDEA, the federal funding contribution has always fallen far short of the full congressional commitment. Funding for Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 is no exception. While the Bush administration calls for a $1 billion increase in IDEA for FY05, the increase comes from eliminating 38 other education programs, such as the Dropout Prevention, Gifted and Talented, Smaller Learning Communities, and School Counseling programs. At the Administration’s rate of increases, the federal government will never reach full funding. Sadly, if IDEA were fully funded right now, states would be receiving over $22.3 billion, instead of the $11 billion proposed by President Bush.

As special education becomes more extensive and expensive, taxpayers have been forced to absorb the shortfall of federal funds. And, special education costs are increasing more rapidly than other educational costs. Congress has made significant progress in recent years, but even with the Administration’s proposed increase, the federal government would still only fund IDEA at 20 percent – half of the promised 40 percent.   The federal government has an obligation to pay for its fair share of these costs.

What’s the difference between appropriating increasing amounts of money and making full funding mandatory?

Part B of IDEA originally authorized Congress to contribute up to 40 percent of the average per pupil expenditure (APPE) for each student receiving special education services. During the appropriations process each year Congress regularly undercuts its own promises.   Even with discretionary increases of $1 billion plus inflation (2.5%) per year, Congress is on course to fully fund IDEA in FY 2035. School children cannot wait another 30 years!  It’s past time to remove IDEA from the annual funding showdown and make good on a 28-year-old promise. Funding for IDEA should be moved out of the discretionary portion of the budget and into mandatory spending.

Will the reauthorization of IDEA address full funding?

Yes. Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) have proposed an amendment (S. 939) to the Senate IDEA reauthorization bill (S. 1248) that provides for full funding in eight years by keeping the $8.9 billion base discretionary and making increases of $2 billion per year through mandatory funding. This amendment will be offered to the IDEA bill during the week of March 22.

In the House, Representatives Bass (R-NH), Ferguson (R-NJ), Simmons (R-CT), and Bradley (R-NH) have introduced a mandatory full funding bill (H.R. 3802), which parallels the Hagel-Harkin proposal.

What I can do about it?

First, contact your Senators and urge them to support the Hagel-Harkin amendment in the Senate. Second, contact your Representative and urge him or her to co-sponsor H.R. 3802 in the House. Go to the IDEA section of Legislative Action Center to send these messages.

To find out more about IDEA reauthorization:

  • Visit our Special Education/IDEA section under NEA on the Issues for background information. Check out NEA website http://www.nea.orgto learn about NEA’s priorities.
  • Sign up to receive NEA IDEA Activist updates by contacting Patti Ralabate,NEA Senior Professional Associate for Special Needs.


1. Figures contained in cost justifications for President Bush’s Fiscal Year 2005 Budget for the Department of Education.