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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004
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UPDATE: In October 2017 the U.S. Department of Education indicated it may delay the implementation for up to two years of regulations made final on January 1, 2017 to address significant disproportionality under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) section 618(d), 34 CFR § 300.647. COPAA advocated for the finalization of the regulations to help assure that states and districts do a better job of addressing address significant disproportionality based on race and ethnicity in the identification of children for special education, including identification by disability category, educational placements, and disciplinary actions.

On December 6, 2017, COPAA co-signed a letter to Secretary DeVos urging her to uphold the regulations and assist states in implementing more effective methods in preventing and determining significant disproportionality. 


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.

The IDEA is "spending clause" legislation, meaning that it only applies to those States and their local educational agencies that accept federal funding under the IDEA. While States declining such funding are not subject to the IDEA, all States have accepted funding under this statute and are subject to it.

The IDEA and its predecessor statute, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, arose from federal case law holding the deprivation of free appropriate public education to children with disabilities constitutes a deprivation of due process. It has grown in scope and form over the years. IDEA has been reauthorized and amended a number of times, most recently in December 2004, which contained several significant amendments. Its terms are further defined by regulations of the United States Department of Education, which are found in Parts 300 and 301 of Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations. 

Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act over three decades ago. The law is specifically designed "to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education . . . designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living,” and "to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected.” COPAA is committed to making these two purposes a reality for the millions of children with disabilities and their parents.

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.

In 2016, Congress, through the Every Student Succeeds Act made certain changes to sections 602 and 611 through 614 of the IDEA including: updating and revising definitions and cross references; and, moving the qualification requirements for special education teachers, including the requirements regarding alternate routes to special education teacher certification, from 34 CFR §300.18(b)(1) and (2) to 34 CFR §300.156(c)(1) and (2). Consequently, the IDEA regulations in Parts 300 and 303 were amended to reflect the conforming changes and to ensure consistency between Title I of the ESSA and the IDEA Parts B and C regulations. Read the final regulations and review a chart summarizing each change from ESSA to IDEA. 


Fully Fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

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.

Parents must be Meaningful and Equal Partners in the Development of Individualized Education Program

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.

Protect Parents’ Due Process Hearing Rights

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.

Transition from High School

IDEA requires that youth age 16 and older have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) with a post-secondary 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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