US Congress will consider full funding of IDEA

Could it really happen this time?

Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representative Jared Huffman have sponsored legislation to provide full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Act. The U.S. Federal government is, by law, supposed to provide 40% of per-pupil costs states incur for providing special education services for students with disabilities. That law has been “on the books” almost throughout the life of IDEA (i.e., since the passage of the original law, PL 94-142 in 1975. Congress has never provided this level of funding.

To be clear, “full funding” does not mean paying for 40% of the cost of educating students with disabilities. It refers to the Federal government paying 40% of the costs over and above the costs of general education. So, if the costs for general education students are, say $10,000 per year and the costs for special education students are $16,000, full funding would mean that the Federal government would pay 40% of the $6000 difference which is, in this illustration, $2400.

Often, Congress has allocated something more like 18%-20%-25%. Regularly, Congress has entertained proposals for full funding, but never passed them. Even though the meaning of “full funding” may not seem as substantial as one might think of it on first blush, this is a substantial. States would have $billions to pass on to local education agencies!

It’s been a little bit like the well-known comic about Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown to kick it...Will it be different this time?


  1. The proposed legislation has many co-sponsor in the two camera of Congress. On the Senate side, according to Senator Van Hollen’s press release, they include Senators Jon Tester, Maggie Hassan, Bob Casey, Tina Smith, Mazie Hirono, Jack Reed, Richard Blumenthal, Tim Kaine, Dick Durbin, Ben Cardin, Sherrod Brown, Catherine Cortez Masto, Cory Booker, Ben Ray Lujan, Elizabeth Warren, Jeanne Shaheen, Ed Markey, Tammy Baldwin, Ron Wyden, Kirsten Gillibrand, Debbie Stabenow, Alex Padilla, Robert Menendez, Amy Klobuchar, Chris Murphy, and Gary Peters.  On the House side, according to Representative Jarred Huffman’s press release, they include Glenn Thompson, Kurt Schrader, John Katko, Brian Fitzpatrick, Joe Neguse, Dean Phillips, and David McKinley. It is cosponsored by James Langevin, Gerald E. Connolly, Albio Sires, Jenniffer González-Colón, Pete Stauber, Marilyn Strickland, Angie Craig, Jamie Raskin, Jahana Hayes, and Chellie Pingree. If you’re someone who communicates with your elected officials and you spot someone who represents you among these sponsors of co-sponsors, this action presents a good opportunity to provide a little verbal praise. “Good job,” “Way to go,” “Atta-a-girl,” or similar expressions of appreciations might help increase the chances that we’ll see similar support or kids with disabilities in schools in the future.

  2. Update (2021-11-18 8:00 AM: If you’re interested in finance of public schooling in the US, see Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts: FY 19, a just-released report from the National Center for Education Statistics. There is powerfully little about special education in the report, which is instructive in its own way.