Special Education

Presidential Candidates and Spec Ed

By Christina A. Samuels — February 08, 2008 1 min read
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They may have other policy differences, but when it comes to special education, Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Republican John McCain all want the same thing for states--more money.

My colleague Michele McNeil has already written in her lively blog about Clinton’s pledge to “fully-fund” the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

That gets into a tricky area. In 1975, when IDEA first was passed as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, the law said that the federal government would eventually kick in to the states 40 percent of the nationwide average cost of educating a student. (Look at how relatively brief the special education law was, originally! Those were the days.)

The feds have never met that standard, though, despite stated intentions and “glide paths” and other attempts at meeting that 40 percent standard. President Bush’s proposed fiscal 2009 budget would provide to states grants equal to about 17 percent of the average cost of educating a student.

McCain says the government’s failure to meet the 40 percent funding threshold is a “disgrace.” Check out his comments at a New Hampshire forum when he was asked about the topic by a mother of two children with autism:

McCain’s wife, Cindy, has a master’s degree in special education from the University of Southern California, and she’s come up more than once when McCain is asked about education topics.

As for Obama, his disability plan fact sheet also includes a charge to fully-fund the law.

So, good news, right? The only problem is that no one makes it entirely clear where the money is going to come from. The 17 percent funding in Bush’s proposed budget amounts to $11.3 billion in grants to states. More than doubling that percentage (and adding new programs, in the case of Clinton’s and Obama’s overall education proposals) adds up to real money. Do you think the candidates, once elected, will finally be able to achieve this goal?

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