Part of President Obama’s platform when he was campaigning 4 years ago was to fully fund the Federal commitment to special education. On average, a special education student requires about twice the funding as a regular education student. The Federal government made a commitment to pay states 40% of the costs of special education, but has never lived up to that commitment. Typically, the Federal contribution to IDEA is about 17%.
When he campaigned, Mr. Obama’s platform included “Fully Funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act”:
Fully Funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: 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). Children are being shortchanged, and their parents are forced to fight with cash-strapped school districts to get the free and appropriate education the IDEA promises their children. Fully funding IDEA will provide students with disabilities the public education they have a right to, and school districts will be able to provide services without cutting into their general education budgets. In addition to fully funding IDEA, Barack Obama and Joe Biden will ensure effective implementation and enforcement of the Act.
The 2011 proposed budget by Mr. Obama had this language (as I noted in 2010):
The $12.8 billion request for Special Education programs focuses on improving educational and early intervention outcomes for children with disabilities. For the Grants to States program, the Administration is requesting $11.8 billion, an increase of $250 million over the 2010 appropriation, to maintain the Federal contribution toward meeting the excess cost of special education at about 17 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure (APPE), and provide an estimated average of $1,750 per student for about 6.7 million children ages 3 through 21. Funding for the Grants for Infants and Families and Preschool Grants programs would be maintained at their 2010 levels
Which kept funding levels at about the same 17%, not the 40% level committed
For the 2013 budget, Mr. Obama proposes:
Increase Funding for the Education of Children with Disabilities. The Budget provides $11.6 billion for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Grants to States to provide a high quality education and help offset State and local education costs for children with disabilities. The Budget also provides a $20 million, or 5 percent, increase for the IDEA Infants and Families Program to provide the youngest children a good start. In addition, the Budget provides $30 million, a $28 million increase over 2012, for PROMISE (Promoting Readiness of Minors in SSI), a four agency joint pilot program, to fund and evaluate innovative approaches to improving outcomes of children receiving Supplemental Security Income and their families.
Yes, $11.6B. Less than the 2011 budget amount of $11.8B and, again, not the 40% of the campaign promise.
The intent of special education legislation has always included Federal funding for the states. What we now call IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act) started out as the “Education For All Handicapped Children Act“, which, itself, is the short name for the bill. The full name for the bill was: “A bill to provide financial assistance to the States for improved educational services for handicapped children.” Pretty clear there.
But congress gave themselves an out. Two outs, really. The summary of the bill states:
Education for All Handicapped Children Act – Extends the provisions of the Education of the Handicapped Act through fiscal year 1977 and authorizes appropriations for such years.
And there you see one of the “outs” the government has with not paying their full commitment. The law “authorizes appropriations”. In other words, they give themselves permission to add it to the budget–but they don’t *require* that it be added to the budget. It’s common language (as I recall, “authorizing appropriations” is in the Combating Autism Act as well).
Here’s the second “out” the legislature used. In the original version of the bill (House Resolution 7217) the law read:
Provides that the Commissioner of Education shall, in accordance with provisions of the Education of the Handicapped Act, make payments to State educational agencies for grants made for assistance in providing full educational opportunity to all handicapped children. States that such allotments shall be in an amount equal to the product of the number of handicapped children in the school district of the local educational agency who are enrolled in programs of free appropriate public education meeting the criteria established in this Act, and 50 percent of the average per pupil expenditure in public elementary and secondary schools in the United States.
They were going to pay 50% of the cost of special education. (special education funding is about twice that of regular education. So by granting the states an additional 50% per special ed student, they are paying 1/2 the funding difference). But the House version of the law was tabled in favor of the senate law
States that the maximum amount of the grant to which a State is entitled under such Act shall equal the number of handicapped children aged three to twenty-one, who are receiving special education in such State, multiplied by a percentage of the average per pupil expenditure in public elementary and secondary schools in the United States. Increases such percentage from 5 to 40 percent by 1982.
While the law is promoted as committing to ramp up the Federal contribution to 40%, congress only committed themselves to a “maximum” of 40%.
Mr. Obama isn’t the first to acknowledge that we have not lived up to our obligation, our commitment. For example, House Resolution 976 in 2001 was the “IDEA Keeping Our Commitment Act of 2001” had the goal “To authorize appropriations for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to achieve full funding in fiscal year 2002 and fiscal year 2003, and for other purposes.” It died in committee. As did the “Keeping Our Promises to Special Education Act of 2001″ or the “Keep Our PACT Act” or the “IDEA Full Funding Act” and many other attempts to fulfill the promise.
So congress made the commitment but they gave themselves the ability to dodge that commitment. Many, including President Obama, have recognized that a promise is a promise. They recognize that congress’ stated goal 37 years ago was “A bill to provide financial assistance to the States for improved educational services for handicapped children”. From Mr. Obama’s campaign platform quoted above:
Fully Funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: 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.
With the budget for the final year of Mr. Obama’s first term submitted, we as a people are still not living up to the promise, the obligation. Mr. Obama included a one-time boost for special education in the economic stimulus package. While this is highly disappointing, the sad fact is that should Mr. Obama not be re-elected, the chances for fully-funded special education will be even worse.