Principles for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

For additional information, please contact:
Leslie Jackson (301) 652-2682
Paul Marchand (202) 785-3388
Katherine Beh Neas (202) 347-3066
Stephen Spector (301) 306-7070
Jane West (202) 289-3903

Public education for all is a cornerstone of our democracy. It is the mechanism by which this nation prepares all students to pursue the benefits of freedom and to exercise fully their rights and responsibilities as citizens. In 1975, Congress enacted the law now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This law provides eligible children with disabilities a free, appropriate public education. IDEA has several sections: Part B provides grants to states to implement services to preschool and school-aged children. Part C provides grant to states to implement statewide comprehensive systems of early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. Part D provides grants to create and support the special education infrastructure through research, dissemination, applying research findings to instructional practice, parent training, and effective personnel preparation and technical assistance. Part B is permanently authorized. Parts C and D are scheduled for reauthorization in 2003.

Thanks to IDEA, more than six million children receive special education and related services. The law establishes a two-prong eligibility standard. Special education and related services of IDEA are available to students who have disabilities and who need special assistance to benefit from education. Once a child is found eligible, a team including the child’s parents and representatives of the public education system develops an individualized education program (IEP) or individualized family service plan (IFSP) that includes the services and supports necessary to meet each child’s unique needs.

Our system of public education is responsible for educating all students, including students with disabilities. Only when special education and general education work together can we be confident that no child will be left behind.

The CCD Education Task Force understands policymakers are committed to increasing educational outcomes for students with disabilities served by IDEA. We welcome that goal. In reauthorizing IDEA, the Task Force urges policymakers to analyze carefully each issue of concern to determine whether the concern results from a problem with the current statute or a problem of inappropriate, ineffective, or incomplete implementation of the current statute. Such an analysis should guide policymakers in determining whether changes are required to enhance the implementation of current law or whether requirements of the statute need to be changed. CCD urges Congress to adhere to the following principles during the reauthorization process.

All children should be provided a quality public education that promotes academic success.
The tyranny of low expectations has produced limited academic success among too many students, including students with disabilities. Research shows student achievement significantly improves when teachers and other faculty hold high expectations for students. All children, including children with disabilities, must be identified and provided a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

Each child’s education should be tailored to meet his or her unique needs.
Students with disabilities often require specific services, aside and apart from curriculum adaptation, to enable them to learn. The IEP and the IFSP are developed through a family/public agency partnership and must guide the provision of early intervention, preschool, special education and related services most appropriate to meet each child’s needs. An effectively developed and implemented education program prepares a child for the transition from early intervention to preschool, from preschool to school, from school to post-secondary education, work, independent living, and full participation in our community.

Parental involvement is critical to providing appropriate education to children with and without disabilities.
Parents must be assured the opportunity to maintain an effective voice in making decisions at every level about the education of their children with disabilities. Quality education demands a collaborative effort among students, parents, schools, and communities.

Accountability and monitoring programs must be improved

The Federal Government must ensure state special education programs comply with the IDEA. To do this effectively, it must have adequate data regarding IDEA implementation to validate its monitoring and the capacity to sanction states when necessary. Sanctions should be predictable and applied equally to all states and territories, based on student outcomes. However, compliance with the law’s due process requirements is also essential so parents can ensure accountability for their children’s educational programs. Similarly, states have a duty to require local educational agencies to comply with the law, and need the same tools as federal enforcement agencies in order for true accountability to exist.

All educational personnel, including administrators, principals, teachers, paraprofessionals, and related services personnel, must be qualified to educate students with disabilities.

Too often personnel have not received the necessary training in effective methods of educating students with disabilities. With the majority of students with disabilities spending considerable amounts of their school days in general education settings, ensuring general educators have the skills and the commitment to work effectively with students with disabilities is paramount. The presence of qualified personnel is critical to achieving positive student outcomes. High dropout rates among students with disabilities are correlated to shortages of qualified personnel. Ensuring qualified personnel is a critical component of educational accountability.

Shortages of qualified personnel must be decreased and eventually eliminated.

The shortage of special education teachers and related services personnel is chronic and persistent. Currently, over 600,000 students with disabilities are taught by special education teachers who are unqualified or under-qualified. IDEA, including Part D, must support the recruitment and retention of certified, qualified teachers. Shortages of special education and related services faculty at institutions of higher education must also be addressed, as they curtail the research, leadership, and training capacity of the field.

Assistive technology training for all personnel is key to academic success.

Special education administrators, educators, related services providers, and paraprofessionals, should receive ongoing training by assistive technology (AT) education experts, to understand and implement the use of AT in the classroom.

Early intervention and preschool services must be available to all eligible children.

Programs authorized by Part C and Section 619 of Part B allow states to create family-centered systems of services across multiple programs and funding streams to ensure infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are prepared for school and learning. States must have the resources to effectively screen, identify, and serve all eligible children to maximize their abilities to enter school ready to learn.

Effective research-based instruction should be used whenever possible.

An intensive effort must be made to bridge the gap between research and practice and effectively provide research-based instruction to all students, in all academic areas.

All schools must provide effective research-based reading instruction to all students, including children with disabilities.
All children with disabilities must have access to research-based early reading programs. However, early reading programs may not eliminate the need for identifying and providing services to a child who does not learn to read because of a disability. Rigorous efforts at early identification must be accompanied by intensive, long-term, individualized, research-based instruction for children whose reading or other academic difficulties are due to their disability rather than to inadequate instruction.

IDEA should give increased attention to racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity to prevent inappropriate overrepresentation or under representation of minority children in special education.

Some overrepresentation of minorities in special education may be due to the well-documented link between poverty and disability. However, the overrepresentation of minority students in some categories of disability significantly exceeds what would be predicted by the impact of poverty. Underrepresentation also occurs in certain categories. Students must be served based on their educational needs. Since 1997, states are required to collect racial data and to intervene where overrepresentation is identified. Further, there is no financial incentive in the law to over-identify students for special education. All students are required to have appropriate access to the general curriculum and to participate in local and state accountability systems.

All levels of government must continue to participate in the implementation of IDEA.
The federal government must set the standard for meeting the responsibilities described in IDEA. A strong federal role is essential to ensuring uniform and effective implementation and practice of IDEA.

Fully funding IDEA is paramount to ensuring all eligible students receive quality services.

States are required by the Constitution to educate all students with disabilities. Congress enacted IDEA to assist them in carrying out this responsibility. Unfortunately, Congress has only funded up to 18% of the cost of educating students with disabilities. Part B of IDEA authorizes the federal government to pay up to 40% of the cost. It is time for Congress to honor its promise. Funding for Part C, the Infants and Toddlers Program, Part B’s Section 619 preschool program, and Part D, IDEA support programs, have not even kept pace with inflation. Significant increases are critical to ensure high quality services are provided to all students with disabilities.

The civil rights of children with disabilities and their families must be fully maintained.

The core substantive rights to a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) are the heart of IDEA. Children with disabilities are entitled to an individualized education that meets their unique needs. An explanation is required if a decision is made by the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team to serve the child in a setting that is other than the general education setting.

Procedural safeguards are necessary to assure that educational decisions are determined appropriately.
Parents must be fully informed of their children’s rights and (can) participate in a meaningful way in all decision making related to their child. IDEA’s due process provisions give parents the opportunity to challenge school district decisions. These provisions help level the playing field by correcting the imbalance of the legal and fiscal resources available to school districts and those resources available to families. Quality education demands a collaborative effort among students, parents, schools, and communities.

School systems should provide a safe environment, conducive to teaching and learning.

Efforts to achieve this goal must not be based on the lack of understanding about the nature of the child’s disability or the effect of the disability on behavior. All students must be accountable for their actions when they violate school codes of conduct. Schools must not use discipline as the means to deny the effective implementation of a child’s IEP. To ensure safe schools and communities and continued student achievement, any student who is suspended or expelled must have access to immediate and appropriate services, including educational and mental health services necessary to prevent the behavior from reoccurring.

Cessation of services should be prohibited. Ceasing educational and other services for students as a means of disciplining them violates the principle of leaving no child behind.

Any student with violent or disruptive behavior must have their needs addressed through the provision of appropriate and effective services, such as positive behavioral supports. When education and services are denied, students are more likely to become involved in illegal activities. School dropout rates and delinquency will increase and communities will be less safe. Furthermore, loss of progress due to lack of services is particularly difficult to recoup for students with disabilities.

All schools should establish and implement research-based, effective programs that prevent school violence.
Effective research-based programs include classroom management strategies to help reduce classroom disruption and increase student learning; positive behavior intervention programs addressing the emotional, behavioral, and educational needs of students; and professional development to reduce the level of inappropriate disciplinary actions. All school staff must be trained to recognize and respond appropriately to troubled youth.

  • Adaptive Physical Activity Council
  • American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • American Association on Mental Retardation
  • American Council of the Blind
  • American Counseling Association
  • American Foundation for the Blind
  • American Music Therapy Association
  • American Occupational Therapy Association
  • American Physical Therapy Association
  • American Psychological Association
  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
  • American Therapeutic Recreation Association
  • Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired
  • Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs
  • Association of Tech Act Projects
  • Association of University Centers on Disabilities
  • Autism Society of America
  • Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
  • Brain Injury Association of America
  • Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf
  • Council for Exceptional Children
  • Council for Learning Disabilities
  • Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates
  • Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
  • Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children
  • Division for Learning Disabilities of the Council for Exceptional Children
  • Easter Seals
  • Epilepsy Foundation
  • Family Voices
  • Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health
  • Helen Keller National Center
  • Heumann & Associates
  • Higher Education Consortium for Special Education
  • Learning Disabilities Association
  • NISH
  • National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
  • National Association of Developmental Disabilities Councils
  • National Association of Private Special Education Centers
  • National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems
  • National Association of School Psychologists
  • National Association of Social Workers
  • National Association of State Directors of Special Education
  • National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors
  • National Center for Learning Disabilities
  • National Coalition on Deaf-Blindness
  • National Consortium of Physical Education and Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities
  • National Down Syndrome Congress
  • National Down Syndrome Society
  • National Mental Health Association
  • National Parent Network on Disabilities
  • National Therapeutic Recreation Society
  • Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America
  • Research Institute for Independent Living
  • Sbina Bifida Association of America
  • School Social Work Association of America
  • The American Dance Therapy Association
  • The Arc of the United States
  • The International Dyslexia Association
  • Teacher Education Division, Council for Exceptional Children
  • Tourette Syndrome Association
  • United Cerebral Palsy Associations