Promises Made, Debt Unpaid
In 1975, the Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) and it was signed by President Ford. At the time, Ford, said he was signing under duress because he did not believe we could ever educate all children with handicaps. That law has morphed into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. The law authorized the federal government to provide 40% of the cost of educating a child with disabilities. Well we are part way there.
Gerald Ford, were he alive, might be happy to note that we truly have provided service to almost all children with disabilities in the public schools. We might argue about the quality of that service but the services are there.
You will note in the description of EHA, it says Congress “authorized” lots of money. That would be the promise. However, Congress has never since 1975 appropriated anywhere near that amount of money. In fact, Congress has never even appropriated half of the money it has promised in the last 45 years. IDEA was last reauthorized in 2004.
On average, states in our country spend an additional $9,369 per pupil on children with special educational needs. Maryland spends, on average, $15,848 for each plain student in the state. We are already one of the highest funding education state in the nation and that is before any Kirwan money is added to the pile.
Currently, Congress has appropriated 13.6 billion dollars for IDEA funding. Last year, Maryland U.S. Senator Chris Van Holland (D) and Senator Pat Roberts (R) from Kansas introduced a bipartisan bill to gradually ramp up funding for IDEA. It has gone nowhere.
Funding for special ed programs has attracted the attention of some of the Democrats running for President. Most of the attention has gone to Title I programs for the economically disadvantaged. Sanders and Buttigieg have advocated for more money for student enrichment and career and technical education. Only Elizabeth Warren has come out strongly for an increase in IDEA funding. She is advocating a 20 billion dollar increase ( to 33 billion) over her first term in office, citing her brief special ed teaching experience as informing her decision. Yang has talked about his son with autism on the campaign trail. If past is prologue, Congress will be more likely to boost funding for smaller programs where a smaller amount of money yields a bigger percentage of increase and makes them look good. What is particularly distressing is that the associate executive director of the School Superintendent’s Association instead of advocating for more money to help children with disabilities is pushing for cut backs in the mandates to serve kids as a way to save money. One thing he is recommending is that the requirement that schools not reduce their spending on special ed from year to year be removed!
There are lots of unfulfilled promises to children with disabilities, failing to be committed to serving their needs by people in school leadership is becoming another one.