Ever since the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act became law in 1975, public schools have been required to provide a “free appropriate” education to disabled students. If parents can prove that the public schools involved can’t meet their child’s needs, they can seek public financing for private schools. That provision of the law is now before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (“Justices Face ‘Blizzard of Words’ in Special Education Case,” The New York Times, Jan. 11).
The question is what constitutes an “appropriate” education for the 6.7 million children with disabilities. I see the issue as balancing the needs of special education students with the rising cost of providing that education. The intent of the law was to place such students in the least restrictive environment. Yet the cost of doing so is straining the budgets of school districts, which are already faced with other legal demands. For example, as far back as 2014, the New York City school system spent more than $200 million a year on such education.
Nevertheless, the law is the law. As a result, school districts must find a way to pay for the services these students deserve that is beyond a minimal special program. But at the same time, I hasten to stress that does not mean the best education money can buy. Otherwise, the cost will drive school districts close to bankruptcy.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.