CHN: IDEA Reauthorized
By a strong bipartisan margin, Congress agreed to renew the law that grants 6.7 million children with disabilities the right to a public education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides federal funding to local school districts to ensure that children with disabilities have equal access to free public education in the “least restrictive environment.” The reauthorization comes after advocates and negotiators from the House and Senate worked hard to iron out differences between bills passed by the House and Senate earlier this year. The House approved the conference report by a vote of 397-3 and the Senate cleared it by voice vote on Friday, November 19.
The reauthorized IDEA ( HR 1350 , H Rept 108-779) includes provisions to raise teacher standards and increase funding. However, the bill does not guarantee an increase in IDEA funds because the funding continues to be discretionary (Congress must approve the level each year). Advocates for disabled children have been pushing to make IDEA funding mandatory.
The original law set the goal of federal reimbursement to states of up to 40 percent of the cost of educating special needs students. However, Congress has not kept its funding promise and the federal government currently covers only 19 percent of states’ costs. Congress appropriated $10.1 billion for the program in FY 2004 and $10.7 billion in FY 2005. The reauthorized law authorizes (but does not guarantee) $12.4 billion for fiscal year 2005.
Advocates had also been wary of provisions related to disciplining children with disabilities contained in the House-passed version. But the final bill maintains current rules on disciplining disabled students while simplifying some paperwork requirements. The bill also contains provisions requiring special education teachers be certified as “highly qualified” by the end of the 2005-2006 school year. Other provisions are aimed at reducing the over-identification of minority children as disabled.
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