Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Intent of the Ninety-fourth US Congress

Originally posted at change.org

Members of the Ninety-fourth United States Congress took notice of the facts and rulings in PARC and Mills. Congressional response included an investigation into the status of all children with disabilities. After an investigation and hearings, Congress enacted Public Law 94-142, originally titled Education for All Handicapped Children Act and later reauthorized and renamed Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004).

As noted in the United States Code Congressional and Administrative News 1975 (USCCAN), Congress introduced the legislation in response to

…landmark court cases establishing in law the right to education for all children [Mills and PARC] … In 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States [Brown v. Board of Education] … stated “In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.”

The investigation yielded valuable data about the numbers of children not receiving an appropriate education. Congress found that, out of 8 million children with disabilities, only 3.9 million were receiving appropriate education. 4.25 million children were either receiving no education or inappropriate education.


USCCAN reported Congress’s findings on the social and economic costs of failing to educate all children:

The long-range implications of these statistics are that public agencies and taxpayers will spend billions of dollars over the lifetimes of these individuals to maintain such persons as dependents…With proper education services, many would be able to become productive citizens, contributing to society instead of being forced to remain burdens…

It should not … be necessary for parents throughout the country to continue utilizing the courts to assure themselves a remedy….



In 1975, the Ninety-fourth US Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Act. After several reauthorizations, IDEA now requires states, school districts, and schools to ensure that

All children with disabilities ages 3 through 21 receive a free, appropriate public education that meets their unique needs, regardless of the type or severity of their disability.


Children with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment possible….


Each student with a disability is to have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that describes the education and related services to be provided to that student.

Parents of students with disabilities have the right to notification, informed consent, due process, and involvement in key decisions…


Federal grants are authorized to help pay state and local costs associated with implementing IDEA mandates and serving students with disabilities.

I think of IDEA as an amazingly progressive piece of legislation which codified a 180- degree turn around in conventional wisdom regarding the educability of disabled children. It is a generally well-written act (although it has highly litigated terminology, such as what is an “appropriate” education) that ensures parents important and fair rights. However, there have been obstacles in the implementation of IDEA that I believe have kept the act from fulfilling congressional intent.

The National Council on Disability (NCD) (http://www.ncd.gov), whose mission is “to provide a voice in the Federal Government and to Congress for all people with disabilities in the development of policies and delivery of programs that affect their lives”, published “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Reauthorization: Where Do We Really Stand?” in 2002. For this publication, NCD solicited public responses to questions about four areas identified as critical to the implementation of IDEA: eligibility and over representation of minorities; funding; monitoring and enforcement; and discipline. In the introduction NCD notes:

From the students, we hear the reality of their lives in special education. In most cases, the comments we received from them are a scathing indictment of the implementation of IDEA.


I’ve read through the public comments published in “Where Do We Really Stand,” and all of them are poignant and significant, but one stands out for me as a clear, objective summary:

The findings … were a confirmation and documentation that the statute is strong, but implementation and enforcement are thin and inconsistent. This study confirmed what children with disabilities and their families have repeatedly told NCD, namely, that too many students (1) did not receive FAPE [Free, Appropriate Public Education]; (2) were inappropriately placed in separate settings; (3) did not receive appropriate services whenserved in regular classrooms; (4) had not been able to access critical transition services and supports; (5) were not provided with related services such as speech therapy, physical therapy, or psychological counseling as reflected in their IEPs. And, (5) did not receive the benefits of procedural safe-guards and protections in evaluation in some states.

What are your experiences with IDEA? And check out the chart below that compares the yearly appropriation of IDEA funds with “full funding”. How many of the above inadequacies would be relieved by full funding?

1 comment:

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