Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates
Protecting the Legal and Civil Rights of Students with Disabilities
|Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004|
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is one of the key federal laws that governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to children with disabilities. The law addresses the educational needs of children with disabilities from birth to age 18 or 21 (*may be up to 26 depending on state law) in cases that involve specified categories of disability.
Today, there are 6.4 million children with disabilities in America. Many students with disabilities receive good educations; however, far too many receive educations that are weak and inadequate. School districts fail to identify children with disabilities and provide ineffective services to others. IDEA’s enforcement depends on the right of parents to seek a hearing before an impartial hearing officer. This right is only meaningful if parents can exercise it. But parents, whom Congress envisioned as equal partners in developing their children’s educational programs, face a playing field that is neither level nor fair. COPAA is committed to creating a level playing field for parents, and to ensuring that children with disabilities receive the same high-quality education as all children. The time for equal opportunity for children with disabilities is now.
When Congress passed IDEA in 1975, it committed the federal government to helping to ensure that students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education by funding 40 percent of the additional cost to educate IDEA-eligible students. To date, the federal government has never fulfilled its commitment to fully fund the IDEA. In fact, it’s never covered more than 16 percent of these costs. This lack of federal investment, in combination with the recent education budget cuts at the state and local level, has made it increasingly difficult for schools and early education programs to continue to provide the services that young children and youth with disabilities need and to which they are legally entitled. Funding for IDEA helps foster excellence for all students. Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirement which exists to ensure states maintain approximately the same spending levels on education from year to year must be maintained. Without MOE, states and districts will be free to slash education budgets while remaining eligible to receive federal funds
Congress’ has repeatedly found that "the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by … strengthening the role and responsibility of parents and ensuring that families of such children have meaningful opportunities to participate in the education of their children at school and at home.” § 601(C)(5). IEP meetings are the primary venue for parental participation. Many issues have stifled parent ability to be full partners in the process and must be corrected.
Parents are the primary enforcers of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) through private actions. Therefore, it is important to protect and strengthen due process hearing rights so parents are on an even playing field and children with disabilities may receive the free, appropriate public education (FAPE) to which they are entitled. This includes, among other necessary policy actions:
IDEA requires that youth age 16 and older have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) with a postsecondary transition plan that is updated annually. In some states, transition planning may begin as early as age 14. Federal law mandates that transition planning must help students and their families think about their life after high school and identify long-range goals that design the high school experience so that students gain the skills and connections they need to achieve these goals.
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