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UPDATED: With Harkin's Move, Full Funding for IDEA Gains Momentum

| 36 Comments

Mandatory full funding for special education could be closer to becoming a reality now that Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, was named chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Just this week, Sens. Harkin and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., reintroduced legislation to fully fund special education. Similar bills have been introduced in years past. Harkin has long been a champion for full funding, and will be in a powerful position as Congress prepares to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

"Full funding" of the act is often referred to as providing states with per-pupil federal aid for students with disabilities that is equivalent to 40 percent of the average per-student cost, which is what many advocates for such students believe was a promise made by Congress when it first passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975.

"We tell our children all the time to keep their promises, to live up to their commitments, to do as they say they are going to do," Harkin said in a statement. "It is time for the federal government to make good on its promise to students with disabilities in this country."

Thanks to the economic-stimulus bill, funding for IDEA grants to states was increased to 34 percent of the average per-student cost. But that was a one-time investment, without which IDEA grants are funded at around 17 percent of the cost of special education programs. Federal funding has never exceeded 18 percent.

“Congress made a promise to our schools and our children to share the cost of special education,” Roberts said. “It’s time that Congress relieve our state and local governments of the financial burden they have been forced to shoulder, especially in these tough economic times.”

Bruce Hunter, the associate executive director of public policy for the American Association of School Administrators, said he was optimistic about full funding.

“This is the best opportunity for getting 40 percent we have ever had," Hunter said. “The new funding is especially important to continue the improvement of services for students with disabilities [and] take up the slack for shortfalls in state and local funding that are sure to happen over the next two to three years. I expect that Senator Harkin can put IDEA funding on the glide path to 40 percent in this Congress, maybe not this year, but surely in the coming year.”

Updated: The issue also gained momentum on the House side, with representatives Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Todd Russell Platts, R-Pa., and Tim Walz, D-Minn., introducing a bill on Sept. 15. calling for full funding. The bill would require regular increases in IDEA spending to reach full funding by FY 2015.

Reform of the IDEA funding process is long overdue, Platts said in a statement. If the federal government paid its fair share of the costs of the special education mandate to benefit special needs students, it would free up additional resources and allow school districts to address local educational needs without raising taxes, the statement said.

36 Comments

Well, finally. It's about time the federal government pulled its share of the weight of special ed.

Full funding for IDEA has been a long time in coming.

My doctoral dissertation was on this topic in the 1990s. I only hope it goes through this time.

Here in California and elsewhere, there is a movement to replace Special Education with RTI, Response to Invention, especially with California's Resource Specialist Program/Special Education. Instructional assistants and even Special Educators are being taken from Special Education programs and used for RTI or Response to Intervention. This reduces Special Education programs especially the Resource Specialist Program here in California to ineffectiveness.

I hope this time Congress places severe restrictions on this IDEA money for Special Education. In this way it can only be used for its intended audience..Special Education students.

I have to disagree with Dr. Brown with regard to RtI "replacing" Special Education. It has long been the case that the divide between special and regular education has left some marginal kids overlooked, encouraged regular classroom teachers to see identification as a means of moving challenging students out of their bailiwick, delayed assistance until a student could be categorized and may have contributed to an overidentification in some categories, particularly by SES, ethnicity and gender.

RtI provides a smoother, more organized slope--assisting schools in the provision of a full continuum of LRE. It does not negate the existence of identified kids at one end of the spectrum and non-identified kids at the other. Properly implemented provides a bridge across the huge chasm in between, so that we are no longer just tossing kids across from one camp into the other, occasionally dropping some in the middle.

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