Advocacy groups applaud new IDEA funding for special education

Congress passed a new relief bill that includes about $3 billion in additional funding to the IDEA, including preschool grants for special education.
By: | March 11, 2021
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Congress passed a new relief bill that includes about $3 billion in additional funding to the IDEA as part of its third relief package affecting K-12 schools. For FY 2021, the U.S. Education Department is expected to appropriate $2.58 billion for grants under the IDEA Part B, $200 million for preschool grants under the IDEA Section 619, and $250 million for programs for infants and toddlers with disabilities under the IDEA Part C. American Rescue Plan Act Section 2014(a).

Districts are planning to direct the funds to provide mental health services, addressing staff shortages, providing additional technology, and offering professional development. Preschool grants for special education and additional IDEA funds are expected to be part of the funding provided through the newly passed American Rescue Plan Act, awaiting President Biden’s signature.

“We are especially excited about the infusion of funds for the early childhood programs, that provide an excellent early start for young children,” said Myrna Mandlawitz, policy and legislative consultant for Council of Administrators of Special Education. “These IDEA dollars will be critical to getting children and youth with disabilities back in their seats and continuing to receive academic and social and emotional supports and services.”

What else could the additional funding cover?

Mandlawitz said the additional funding could be used for mental health services or to support academics to increase evidence-based interventions that address learning disruptions and professional development ensuring staff has the training to shift quickly to remote learning in the future and to continue hybrid and remote learning right now. She said the newfound funding could also be used to address critical shortages of special education personnel, both teachers and specialized instructional support personnel.

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Districts may choose to hire additional personnel to provide services to students who currently have no access to special education, particularly given the longstanding shortage of special educators and service providers, added Meghan Whittaker, policy and advocacy director for the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

“IDEA funds are very flexible in how they can be used, and this targeted funding is essential to ensuring decision-makers are prioritizing the needs of students with disabilities during this crisis,” said Whittaker.

“Some districts who still have not been able to reach students directly during the pandemic may spend funds on devices or assistive technology to ensure students can learn virtually,” she continued. “Others might invest in professional development to make sure the mode of instruction is actually accessible to students with disabilities.”

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Whittaker said special education has been underfunded by Congress for decades, leaving districts to cover the costs of serving a growing population of students with disabilities.

“This additional funding is only a drop in the bucket of what is actually needed,” said Whittaker. “We know that state and district funding overall has taken a hit during the pandemic, so any increases in federal funding are incredibly helpful at this time.”

The Education Trust released a statement lauding the bill as being necessary to move students and schools forward on a path to recovery.

“[The American Rescue Plan Act] will provide our nation’s education system with critical resources to ensure students and educators can safely return to in-person learning environments that support their social and emotional well-being,” read the Ed Trust statement. “These resources, including those dedicated to addressing unfinished instruction and accelerating learning, need to get to communities quickly so they can plan and implement evidenced-based programs, such as intensive tutoring and summer enrichment.”

The National Association of Elementary School Principals similarly heaped praise on the American Rescue Plan Act, noting that the $125 billion in direct support for K-12 schools amounts to more than $190 billion when combined with $67 billion in federal relief previously provided to K-12 schools. Those relief packages included the CARES Act, enacted in March 2020, and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, enacted December 2020 — the latter providing $12.9 billion for IDEA Part B grants.

Johnny Jackson covers special education issues for LRP Publications.