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

4 Jan

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.

10 Responses to “How much is the U.S. Federal government’s obligation towards funding special education?”

  1. vmgillen January 4, 2011 at 20:05 #

    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.

  2. Sullivan January 5, 2011 at 05:15 #

    Stanley seigler,

    It is only going to get worse. Gov. Brown is sure to cut deeper. The previous administration took all the easy ways out (like delaying state workers pay so that one paycheck from 2010 ways paid on 2011).

    But, yep, Arnold reduced license fees. That helped a lot….

  3. stanley seigler January 5, 2011 at 05:57 #

    LBRB owner pls delete my previous on this thread…the following may be easier to read.

    the following:

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

    how much are states (society) obligated towards funding special education…FAPE (fair appropriate public ed)

    from another LBRB:

    IDEA has never been adequately funded as required by law…schools administrators would rather spend money on lawyers to deny programs than on FAPE programs for all.

    people/society (at least in USA) prefer tax breaks for rich folks and corporations vice health care for po folks and quality programs for the least…in CA-USA they prefer cheap license plates for hummer owners.

    to fix deficit budgets, myopic legs (legislators, voted in by a sick society) cut, already under funded, social needs programs to provide short term, stupid, budget quick fixes…legs pander to a sick society (the collective consciousness of people/voters)…

    added

    [sullivan say] Gov. Brown is sure to cut deeper.

    hope springs…maybe he’ll cut prisons…to date: The Biggest Hits of All Overall, the budget made a number of reductions in health and human services programs
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DDRIGHTS/message/6459

    stanley seigler

  4. Christina Samuels January 6, 2011 at 21:08 #

    Sullivan, thank you for weighing in on this important and complex issue! I wanted to just add a bit more information to the mix. I cover special education for a newspaper called Education Week.

    You mention that special education “full funding” is really “40 percent of per-pupil expenditure,” not “40 percent of special education costs.” This is true — but these are essentially the same amounts of money, which is why you often hear them used interchangeably.

    In 2002, a presidential panel on special education formed by President Bush released a report that explains special education finance in more detail.

    http://www2.ed.gov/inits/commissionsboards/whspecialeducation/reports/three.html

    Back when the precursor law to the IDEA was created, it was generally believed that it takes twice as much to educate a child in special education as it does in general education. The last studies that looked at this, in 1999-2000, found pretty much the same thing. No one has looked at this again on a nationwide basis (which someone should!)

    Anyway, “40 percent of per-pupil expenditures” or how I usually put it in my articles, “40 percent of the ‘excess costs’ of educating a student in special education,” or even “40 percent of special education costs” is actually the same amount of money — again, with that assumption that a special education kid is twice as expensive to educate as a general education kid. Of course, we know that some children require more services and some require less, so we’re all dealing with estimates here…

    So you and Chris Dodd aren’t really wrong, though the word usage isn’t quite as accurate as it could be. I’m so glad you’re writing about this, and pulling out the real law for people to take a look at!

  5. Lyrics Brown February 3, 2012 at 02:28 #

    Wow this is very shocking to hear that the federal government is suppose to pay 4,000 per special education student, but only pays about $1,700. Thats not even half! We have to do something about this. Its even more shocking to know that not even all of this money is passed on to school districts.

  6. Lyrics Brown February 3, 2012 at 02:31 #

    I agree with you sullivan it is only gonna get worse

  7. Lyrics Brown February 3, 2012 at 02:33 #

    That is very true vmgillen

    • Sullivan February 3, 2012 at 19:20 #

      Lyrics Brown,

      first off. Great name. Don’t know (nor am I fishing) if that’s your real name but I get a kick out of the first name “Lyrics”.

      On the more serious level, this is one of those things that scares me a great deal. Even when the economy has been good we haven’t fulfilled our obligations.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  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 - January 4, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kev. Kev said: How much is the U.S. Federal government’s obligation towards funding special education?: When the U… http://bit.ly/fqQSAW […]

  2. Despite Education Funds, Obama Budget Unites Progressive Opposition - April 16, 2013

    […] obligation to cough up its share of spending on special education students is long overdue. As this blog post recently pointed out, the original legislation establishing IDEA obligated the federal government […]

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