Submitted by Maria Simon
In 1975 Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This important legislation provided for a “free and appropriate” public education to students with disabilities. Included in the legislation was a promise that Congress would fund 40 percent of the extra per pupil cost of special education services.
Over four decades later Congress has not only failed to honor its funding commitment, it hasn’t even come close. In 2017 IDEA was federally funded at a mere 14.7 percent. Yet public school districts are still mandated to provide the services and supports – and then pick up the funding shortfall. In 2016-17 Coronado Unified School District spent $7.7 million on Special Education with $3.9 million coming from the General Fund. A fully funded IDEA would offer substantial budget relief to CUSD.
This massive unfunded mandate affects every aspect of our schools. As the budget is squeezed tighter programs that serve all students (including those with disabilities) are marginalized. Rather than restoring programs that were cut during the Great Recession, or increasing student experiences in music and the arts, districts must cover the IDEA funding gap. The ability to recruit and retain qualified teachers is also at risk. Money that could otherwise be used to increase teacher salaries, decrease class sizes, or provide resources and technology to classrooms, is being allocated to Special Education.
Compounding the underfunding of IDEA is the maintenance of effort (MOE) requirement. The MOE obligates any district receiving federal funds to budget and spend at least the same amount of local (or state and local) funds for the education of children with disabilities on a year-to-year basis. The State of California is notorious for providing districts with ‘one time’ (versus ongoing) money. This model contradicts the spirit of MOE and further complicates compliance with IDEA.
We should demand nothing short of a fully funded IDEA from Congress. Fortunately a bipartisan group of Congress members from CA, WV, MN, NY WA, and MD have introduced the IDEA Full Funding Act. It is up to us to make sure that our elected representatives in Washington DC support this legislation. Please write to Congressman Scott Peters (Scott.Peters@mail.house.gov) and ask him to join his colleagues in this bipartisan effort to help our public schools.
The decades long, shortsighted and reckless underfunding of IDEA from our federal government compromises the right to a quality education for all students – whether they learn in general education classrooms, special education classrooms, or both. Special Education challenges do not discriminate by zip code or any other marker and districts are left to “find a way.” School district officials across the country subsidize this mandate in a variety of ways: many are taxing authorities and they levy the funds from their community, others pass bonds or (as is the case of many of our neighbors) have higher revenues under the Local Control Funding Formula. CUSD has none of these options. We are burdened with unfunded mandates and we have no control over revenue.
Every student deserves access to a quality education and when we focus on the success of our students with disabilities all of our students benefit. But, as long as it is underfunded the good intentions behind IDEA are compromised. Add your voice to the bipartisan IDEA Full Funding Coalition – over 30 education organizations made up of teachers, school administrators and board members, parents, and special education advocates – and tell Congress to put the money with the mandate.
Resources for more information:
image from U.S. Department of Education IDEA website