The state of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 40 years later

Total number of students with disabilities in the United States has been on the decline since 2005
By: | Issue: May, 2015
April 17, 2015

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The law fundamentally changed the way students with disabilities are educated in America, and the way states fund their K12 education programs.

IDEA requires the federal government to provide 40 percent of the average per-pupil expenditure in the United States, multiplied by the number of special education students in each state, to educate students with disabilities.

However, the government provides only about one-third of these funds that it committed to in the original 1975 legislation, according to a March report from the Education Commission of the States. This places a larger financial burden on state and local governments to serve the most vulnerable students, the report states.

IDEA requires that states and districts provide a free, appropriate public education to students with disabilities.

It also mandates that services for each student with disabilities be based on their individualized education program (IEP), which is created by a team that includes the student’s parents. All of these programs must be provided regardless of cost.

The total number of students with disabilities in the United States has been on the decline since 2005. But the number of students in some disability groups, such as autism, has been increasing.

The number of students with other health impairments such as a heart condition, asthma, epilepsy or diabetes has increased by 93 percent between 2003 and 2013.

IDEA, by the numbers

In 2013-14, the average expenditure amount per student nationally was $12,057.
For the federal government to meet its 40% funding commitment under IDEA, it would have had to provide special education funding of $4,823.
Per student in 2013-14. However, the average provided per student that year was $1,743.
The government would have to supply states with more than $20 billion per year in additional special education funding to meet its commitment.

Source: Education Commission of the States