Understanding
Special Education Funding

Special Education funding is a complicated topic.  Most parents believe that federal and state governments provide funding and some even assume that special education is entirely funded by the federal government. But it is the local school districts who are mainly responsible for a free appropriate education, or FAPE.

Special education services were federally mandated in 1975 by the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act.

This was later modified and became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. IDEA requires states to provide children with special education services as a condition of receiving federal funds.


Special education law consists of broad requirements that mandate schools provide a free appropriate public education.

The federal government provides three special education funding grants under IDEA. The largest is called IDEA Part B, which supports special education programs for K-12. Two smaller grants support preschool programs and programs for infants and families. 

 

  •  On average, most states estimate that special education monies from the federal government make up less than 15%. This leaves the local school districts scrambling to fund the remaining costs of mandated special education services.

Part B of IDEA authorized Congress to contribute up to 40% of the average per pupil expenditure. But to this day, this has not happened.

Especially the new mandates that came with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. The result of this is that school districts have to encroach on their general fund monies to pay for the necessary special education services.

It seems obvious to most of us that if the federal government has mandated special education services under IDEA they should have a plan in place that adequately funds these programs and services. Unfortunately, public education doesn't always make sense.

We've all heard the "WE HAVE NO MONEY" speech from our local school districts when it comes to explaining actions like increasing class sizes, laying off new teachers, cutting extra curricular activities and explaining the severe lack of specialists. Parent organizations and special education union members make regular trips to state capitals and Washington D.C. to lobby for the promised 40% special education funding. But, currently nothing has changed.

  • Statistics show across the United States, special education students are increasing. The services are drastically needed, yet the funding is just not there.

For example, we all have heard about the alarming increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Most of these children require DIS services in the area of speech and language therapy. However, there is an severe shortage of speech and language therapists across the United States and most districts can not afford to out source to the private sector. Although the services are mandated by IDEA, no one can afford them. This results in frustrated parents at IEP meetings forced to negotiate for services that should be easily provided by the local district.

Obviously, the current system is not working and everyone is suffering. Each state uses a different formula to determine their allocations from state governments and it is difficult to find even high level administrators who truly understand special education funding.

Parents interested in learning more about their states special education funding formula and local lobbying efforts should contact their special education department, CAC Chair, County Department of Education and their local legislators.