Special Education

National School Boards Association Pushes for Federal Special Education Law Overhaul

By Christina A. Samuels — March 05, 2019 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Is this the year that Congress will take up the long-overdue renewal of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—plus boost funding for the law?

The National School Boards Association wants to see both. Advocating for “full funding” of IDEA is a perennial issue, but the association is also drawing attention to the fact that the law, last reauthorized in 2004, needs to be rewritten to address more up-to-date concerns about educating students with disabilities.

“This is our big initiative, our big push for this Congress,” said Thomas Gentzel, the executive director of the school boards association.

And the organization is moving forward on multiple fronts. First, Congress has already shown it can pass major education bills—the Every Student Succeeds Act was passed four years ago, and in 2018, Congress passed and President Trump signed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, a reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. That $1.2 billion program was last passed by Congress in 2006.

So, Gentzel said, Congress has shown that it can do this policy work, even though lawmakers have yet to introduce this session a bill that would increase IDEA funding. “It’s important for Congress to express its support for the legislation it passed but funding it at the level it promised to fund it.”

Back in 1975, when the law that was to become the Individuals with Disabilities Act was passed, Congress authorized itself to pick up 40 percent of the extra cost of educating a student in special education. But the federal government has never come close to that level. Right now, the federal government pays for about 14 percent of those expenses, leaving the rest to states and school districts. Current federal spending under the IDEA stands at $12.5 billion.

Gentzel said that NSBA plans to start talking about special education success stories. “They exist in every congressional district in the country.”

That said, there are some parts of the law that could be improved, said Chris Ungar, a former special education teacher and administrator who is also a member of the board of the NSBA. “For example, now that ESSA has been reauthorized, it’s important that we look at the connection between ESSA and IDEA.”

Accountability is an important example, Ungar said. “When we hear about teachers spending up to 40 percent of their time on compliance isues, we need to talk about that and we need to talk about what that means for the education of students, if we’re taking teachers away from actually teaching.”

A renewed IDEA could also take into account the differences in student population over the last 15 years, Ungar said. There’s been a marked increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism, for example, though students with “specific learning disabilities” such as dyslexia remain the largest group of students with disabilities.

Gentzel said the the Democrats, who now control the House of Representatives, have a “pent-up agenda” that they want to take on a number of different education topics.

“One of our goals is to make sure [special education] is one of those issues,” he said.

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

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education Opinion Inclusive Teachers Must Be 'Asset-Based Believers'
Four veteran educators share tips on supporting students with learning differences as they return to classrooms during this pandemic year.
16 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Special Education Opinion 20 Ways to Support Students With Learning Differences This Year
Embed student voices and perspectives into the classroom is one piece of advice educators offer in this third pandemic-affected school year.
16 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Special Education Schools Must Identify Students With Disabilities Despite Pandemic Hurdles, Ed. Dept. Says
Guidance stresses schools' responsibilities to those with disabilities, while noting that federal COVID aid can be used to address backlogs.
2 min read
School children in classroom with teacher, wearing face masks and raised hands
Special Education Attention Deficit Rates Skyrocket in High School. Mentoring Could Prevent an Academic Freefall
Twice as many students are diagnosed with ADHD in high school as in elementary school, yet their supports are fewer, a study says.
4 min read
Image of a child writing the letters "ADHD" on a chalkboard.