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NEA commemorates 35th anniversary of IDEA

Students with disabilities have made significant gains but need more support

WASHINGTON - November 24, 2010 -

Thirty-five years ago, lawmakers adopted landmark federal legislation to ensure that students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education, along with early intervention, special education and other related services. Signed November 29, 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

“There was a time when having a disability not only meant cognitive or physical challenges, but it was often a barrier to a good education,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association. “Before IDEA, many states had laws that excluded students with certain disabilities from attending public schools. IDEA ensured these students were not shut out. It opened the school doors and provided opportunities to learn.”

Over the past three decades, IDEA has dramatically changed how schools support students with disabilities. Before the law was enacted, researchers estimated that public schools educated only one out of five children with disabilities. Today, more than six million students in the U.S. receive special education services. More students with disabilities spend all or part of their day in general education classrooms. They are graduating from high school and attending college at higher rates.

NEA applauds the significant gains that have been made under IDEA, but there is more work to be done. Students would benefit from smaller class sizes, improved training for educators and research to discover other techniques and strategies to educate students with disabilities.

Additionally, lawmakers should fulfill a promise made back when IDEA became law. Congress agreed that the federal government would provide 40 percent of the cost of educating students with disabilities. However, funding has never reached half of the promised amount. Other than the historic infusion of funds included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal government has not come close to meeting its commitment.

“Our students have waited 35 years too many,” Van Roekel added. “I fully understand the challenges of funding at a time of economic crisis. But we are morally obligated to fulfill this commitment to provide equity for students with disabilities.”

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing
3.2  million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Ramona Parks-Kirby  (202) 822-7823,