Education Funding

DeVos Says Federal IDEA Mandates ‘Piled On,’ Don’t Match Funding

By Christina A. Samuels — September 18, 2017 1 min read
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In an exclusive interview with Education Week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said that Congress needs to look at the special education requirements it has placed on states, especially considering the relatively small percentage of funding that the federal government provides to meet all those requirements.

Here’s an excerpt from the September 15 interview about the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act:

Would you push for full funding of IDEA? That's 40 percent of the excess cost of educating a child with disabilities. I think it's a fair question to ask Congress about what the funding levels should be. Right now it's about 15 to 18 percent. And yet, the regulations continue to sort of get piled on here and there. They just continue to sort of make it more and more cumbersome and more and more burdensome for states and for local districts. There has to be, I think, a regular review of that and look at the balance of that, and see what's really right. But most of all what's really right for the students we're trying to serve and for the families and what kind of empowerment do they have in that decision-making. So you want might want to call for slimming down regulation, but also upping the funding for IDEA. Do I have that about right? I'm not advocating one way or another right now. I'm just saying it's clear that Congress has not funded it at the level they committed to when the law was passed. And I think that is something that should be reviewed on a regular basis.

On this, DeVos finds herself on solid ground: Democratic and Republican politicians agree at least in theory that the federal government should provide more money for special education. But bills to accomplish this just haven’t gotten much traction. Back in 1975 when the special education law was passed, Congress set a path for the federal government to contribute 40 percent of the state average annual per-pupil expenditure. But Congress has never gotten close, and the federal contribution is currently about 15 percent of what Congress said it was going to pay, and what it later amended to be a funding “goal”.

If Congress were to take this on—a big if—one question I would like to know is just how much it costs to educate a student with disabilities. The last research-based estimate is that it costs about twice as much as a student in general education. But no one has taken a nationwide look at this question for nearly 20 years. (Unfortunately, the website for the Center for Special Education Finance/Special Education Expenditure Project, which produced that work, appears to be down, hopefully temporarily.) A lot can change in two decades, including the demographics of the special education population, the widespread adoption of response to intervention as a framework to provide focused academic support, the push for inclusion, and more.

Once Congress knows just how much is being spent, federal lawmakers can at least work with some real numbers.

You can read the full Q&A with Betsy DeVos here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.