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Will the Government Fund Its Commitment to Special Ed?

School Issues Center LogoIf the House of Representatives has its way, the federal government will fulfill its promise to fund 40 percent of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The bill is now under consideration in a Senate committee. How will more IDEA funding make a difference to local school districts?

May 15, 2000 -- Twenty-five years ago, the federal government required states to provide children with disabilities an appropriate education. And for 25 years, the government has failed to meet is promise to pay 40 percent of the cost.

That may all change if the House of Representatives has its way. Early this month (May 3), the House overwhelmingly approved the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Full Funding Act (H.R. 4055) by a 421 to 3 vote. The bill will increase funding in $2 billion increments for the next ten years until the federal government fulfills its original obligation.

The current allocation is $4.9 billion, which is only 12.6 percent of the federal government's 40 percent commitment. The bill will increase funding to $24.9 billion by 2010.

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"Our problem is that we did not put our money where our mouth was," Rep. Bill Goodling (R-Pa.) said on the House floor. "That meant that local school districts have had to raise all of this money locally and take it away from reducing classes and away from school construction and maintenance, and they have had to take it away from better education for every other child because they had to fund this 40 percent," said Goodling, cosponsor of the bill and chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

For example, under the current federal IDEA allocation, Los Angeles received $23.1 million. If it had received 40 percent from the federal government, as originally promised, the allocation would have been $118.6 million, about a $95.5 million difference, according to data compiled by the Congressional Research Service.

"If the federal government were to meet that commitment, that would free up that local money so states and school districts could hire more teachers, spend funds to train them better, build new schools, renovate schools to bring them up-to-date with technology," Dan Lara, Republican press secretary for the Committee on Education and the Workforce, told Education World.

"IDEA funding is an issue educators bring to Washington all the time," said Joe Karpinski, press secretary to Sen. Jim Jeffords, (R-Vt.), chairman of the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, where the House bill has been referred.

Karpinski is unsure when the House bill will be addressed. "This isn't a pro and con issue, but how to do it and feel comfortable with the pace of it," he told Education World. "People like Jeffords say, 'Let's bite the bullet and make this real.'"

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