The Obameter

Fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

"Barack Obama has been a strong and consistent advocate for fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Congress promised to shoulder 40 percent of each state's "excess cost" of educating children with disabilities, but it has never lived up to this obligation. Currently, the federal government provides less than half of the promised funding (17 percent)."


IDEA school funding bills are in detention

During his 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama emphasized federally funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to the promised target -- 40 percent of each state's "excess cost" of educating children with disabilities -- but it came nowhere close to that level.

In 2011, we rated this Promise Broken, as funding hovered between 17 and 20 percent. In 2016,  $12.98 billion was appropriated for IDEA -- not much higher than the 2011 level of  $12.53 billion.

IDEA was enacted in 1975 under President Gerald Ford, as the then-Education for All Handicapped Children Act. It strove to provide 40 percent of IDEA funding, making public schools more inclusive to students with disabilities.

Thanks to the bill, 60 percent of students with disabilities spend 80 percent of their time in general education classrooms today. The bill also provided early intervention services and programs to meet individual needs. But federal funding never reached the 40 percent mark.

However, there are two bills making their way through Congress that might change that.

If passed, the IDEA Full Funding Act would reauthorize and make appropriations for the grant program. It would increase the grant money each fiscal year from 2016 to 2025, until funding reaches the maximum amount each state is allowed to receive.

The IDEA High Cost Pool Funding Act would amend IDEA to provide fund "pools" to schools for special education programs that are three times or more the average cost per student, reimbursing local schools.

But there is no guarantee either of these will pass through Congress, or if the states will receive the full 40 percent of funding promised. The promise remains Promise Broken.


Interview with Stephen Worley, deputy communications director for the Senate Appropriations Committee

S 130 CRS Bill Digest Summary IDEA Full Funding Act. CQ Transcripts. Jan. 29, 2015.

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Celebrates 35 Years of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), U.S. Department of Education, June 6, 2012

Children and Youth with Disabilities, National Center for Education Statistics, May 2016

U.S. Education Department Fiscal Year 2016 Congressional Action, accessed Sept. 7, 2016

U.S. Education Department Fiscal Year 2017 Congressional Action, accessed Sept. 7, 2016

The President's Budget: Fact Sheets on Key Issues, Office of Management and Budget, accessed Sept. 7, 2016

H.R. 4028 - IDEA High Cost Pool Funding Act,, accessed Sept. 8, 2016

IDEA Full Funding Act, The School Superintendents Association, accessed Sept. 7, 2016

U.S. Education Department Fiscal year 2012 Congressional Action, accessed Sept. 8, 2016

Huffman, DeSaulnier Introduce IDEA High Cost Pool Funding Act for 40th Anniversary of IDEA, U.S. Congressman Jared Huffman, Nov. 17, 2015

Congress unlikely to fully fund IDEA Act

President Barack Obama stood firmly alongside special education advocates during his 2008 campaign, supporting the full funding Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Obama's budget proposals have included gradual increases to funding the state grants for special education – including a small bump to $12.86 billion for 2012– but Congressional budget battles have made the prospects for full federal funding of the IDEA bleaker than ever.

Congress's promise to shoulder 40 percent of each state's "excess cost" of educating children with disabilities has dogged the act's supporters since it was passed in 1975. Actual federal commitment to the costs has recently hovered between 17 percent and 20 percent of the total in recent years.

That's certainly not going to change anytime soon, said Joel Packer, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a nonprofit coalition of education funding advocates.

"We support full funding, but the chance of that happening is close to zero,” said Packer. "They haven't said let's cut IDEA, but they haven't proposed significant increases in IDEA. The problem overall is that Congress is fixated on cutting funding for everything.”

Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced legislation in July 2011 to fully fund IDEA at 40 percent, but it never left the Senate Finance Committee.

Without full funding, special education costs are shifted to state and local governments, where budgets are also shrinking.

Although Obama does not control Congressional purse strings, he emphasized his support of the full funding as part of his campaign. With long-term budget deficit issues, no one expects the appropriations to ever reach Obama"s goal, and since we rate the promises based on results rather than intent, we rate this Promise Broken.


American Association of School Administrators, IDEA Full Funding Act

Department of Education,Fiscal Year 2012 Action

Interviews with Joel Packer, Committee for Education Funding, Dec. 2, 2011

Interview with Nancy Reder, National Association of State Directors of Special Education, Nov. 18, 2011

Stimulus provides huge boost, but long-term plan still unknown

The stimulus package passed by Congress in February and signed by President Barack Obama provided a massive infusion of money to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: $12.2 billion to be exact.

According to an April 1, 2009, news release from the Education Department, "The IDEA funds under (the stimulus) will provide an unprecedented opportunity for states, (local educational agencies), and early intervention service providers to implement innovative strategies to improve outcomes for infants, toddlers, children, and youths with disabilities while stimulating the economy."

The stimulus is a one-time infusion of money, though, available for only two or three years, and the department's release says efforts will be made to "thoughtfully" invest the money to minimize the "funding cliff" when the stimulus money goes away.

While special education advocates hailed the stimulus funds for the IDEA, some are also wary of the government's long-term commitment.

Mary Watson, president of the Board of Directors of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, testifying before a House education committee in March, expressed gratitude for the stimulus funds but said that while that money "will help states in the short term, our members and their local special education colleagues remain concerned about the long-term funding picture for IDEA."

Her fears were not allayed when the Obama administration proposed a 2010 budget that did not include any increase for the IDEA, but rather would keep the funding level at $12.57 billion.

In a June 1, 2009, story in the Early Childhood Report, Watson said, "We were certainly appreciative of the recovery funds, but we were hoping that there would be some consideration for 2010-2011 to start building for full funding for IDEA."

The same story notes that some legislators, at least, want to ensure that funding doesn't revert to current levels once the stimulus money runs out.

"I don't want to go back," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over education. "Once we've reached this plateau, I don't want to go back down."

Certainly, the stimulus money fulfilled Obama's promise in the short-term, and perhaps there is a plan to increase the yearly budgeted funding once the stimulus runs its course. But that still remains to be seen in future years budgets, and so we'll move this one to In the Works.


Education Department Web site, news release: "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: IDEA Recovery Funds for Services to Children and Youths with Disabilities," April 1, 2009

H.R. 1, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

CQ Transcripts, Statement of Mary Watson, President of the Board of Directors of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, before the Committee on House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies, March 18, 2009

Early Childhood Report, "President proposes no increase in IDEA budget," June 1, 2009