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Bill Would Boost Federal Spending on Students with Disabilities

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Late Thursday, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and 13 other senators introduced a bill that proposes the federal government fulfill a decades-old promise to pay 40 percent of the cost of educating students with disabilities, the Council for Exceptional Children's Lindsay Jones tells me.

The proposal suggests the federal government would reach the 40 percent mark by 2021. For years, advocates of students with disabilities have pushed for the federal contribution towards the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The 40 percent marker was part of a pledge by Congress when that law was created in 1975. But current federal spending specifically for students with disabilities stands at about 16 percent.

So instead, school districts and states have picked up the bulk of the tab for educating students with disabilities. As those costs appear to keep rising, some states have requested permission to cut spending in recent years. With more federal money, the CEC says schools could increase the quality and range of services available to students with special needs, raise the salaries of teachers and staff who work with these students, and in the long run, improve their graduation rates.

Bills pledging full funding have been introduced before, but haven't gotten the traction they needed to pass. This bill proposes boosting the federal contribution from about $11.5 billion this year to $35.3 billion by 2021, primarily through the doubling of taxes on cigarettes and small cigars.

Whether Congress, which is in a bind over raising the debt ceiling, will act on the bill is a big question. All 13 of Sen. Harkin's co-sponsors are Democrats.

Stay tuned for more details and comments as they are available.

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