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How much is the U.S. Federal government’s obligation towards funding special education?

Posted Jan 03 2011 10:45pm

When the U.S. federal government passed The Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975, the law that has since become the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), they made a commitment to assist states in funding this mandate. In fact, the bill was originally introduced as “A bill to provide financial assistance to the States for improved educational services for handicapped children.”

Funding was obviously key to this bill.

I’ve often heard (and believed and written occasionally myself) that the government’s commitment is to fund 40% of special education costs. Here is a statement on Senator Dodd’s website as an example:

Currently, the federal government does not meet the goal it set in 1975 to fund 40 percent of states’ special education costs. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided a one-time investment, which increased federal funding to 34 percent. However, federal funding has otherwise never exceeded 18 percent.

On researching a recent post, I found this to be not precisely true. The federal government isn’t required to pay 40% of special education costs. Instead, they are “required” to pay states an amount equal to 40% of the average cost per student for each special ed student.

If you feel like you have to read that again to understand what I wrote, I understand. It took me a while to work this out myself. And you can see that I didn’t find a brief way to write it, either.

Under “Grants to States” section of the law , one can read:

(a) Purpose of grants. The Secretary makes grants to States, outlying areas, and freely associated States (as defined in Sec. 300.717), and provides funds to the Secretary of the Interior, to assist them to provide special education and related services to children with disabilities in accordance with Part B of the Act.

(b) Maximum amount. The maximum amount of the grant a State may receive under section 611 of the Act is—

(1) For fiscal years 2005 and 2006—
(i) The number of children with disabilities in the State who are receiving special education and related services—
(A) Aged three through five, if the State is eligible for a grant under section 619 of the Act; and

(B) Aged 6 through 21; multiplied by—
(ii) Forty (40) percent of the average per-pupil expenditure in public elementary schools and secondary schools in the United States (as defined in Sec. 300.717); and

(2) For fiscal year 2007 and subsequent fiscal years—
(i) The number of children with disabilities in the 2004-2005 school year in the State who received special education and related services—
(A) Aged three through five if the State is eligible for a grant under section 619 of the Act; and

(B) Aged 6 through 21; multiplied by

(ii) Forty (40) percent of the average per-pupil expenditure in public elementary schools and secondary schools in the United States (as defined in Sec. 300.717);

(iii) Adjusted by the rate of annual change in the sum of—
(A) Eighty-five (85) percent of the State’s population of children aged 3 through 21 who are of the same age as children with disabilities for whom the State ensures the availability of FAPE under Part B of the Act; and

(B) Fifteen (15) percent of the State’s population of children described in paragraph (b)(2)(iii)(A) of this section who are living in poverty.

Emphasis added.

40% is accurate, but not 40% of special education costs. Instead “Forty (40) percent of the average per-pupil expenditure”. Average per-pupil expenditure is the average cost for all students, not just those in special education.

In the U.S., we spend about $10,000 per student , on average. So, the federal government is supposed to pay about $4,000 per special education student as their commitment. But they haven’t fulfilled their commitment. Rather than $4,000, they pay about $1,700.

$1,700. That’s how much the federal government pays each state per special ed student student. And—and—the state doesn’t pass all of that along to school districts.

If special education costs go up faster than regular education costs, the amount the Federal government is supposed to pay doesn’t go up.

This isn’t news. It’s been happening for about 35 years now. Long enough for states and school districts to factor this into their budgets. But, explains part of why districts may feel a bit of a pinch when it comes to special education costs. Special education is essentially an unfunded mandate. At a very real level it doesn’t matter that it is unfunded. Special education is the right and appropriate thing to do. However, it would sure help out a lot if the federal government would help out financially.

  1. Tweets that mention Autism Blog - How much is the U.S. Federal government’s obligation towards funding special education? « Left Brain/Right Brain -- Topsy.com:
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  2. vmgillen:
    Thank you. Of course, now that I understand I anticipate the politicos now in charge will totally eviscerate the program - so there will be no multipliers of any kind factored in.

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