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Your UCP: National September 11, 2003


Current IDEA Debate

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) specifies that the federal government will pay "up to 40 percent" of the total cost to state and local education agencies for this requirement. The most Congress has ever provided is 15%. Education agencies say this funding is too low, sometimes forcing them to reduce spending on other students. See also the 107th Congress Issue Briefs.

Congress and the Bush Administration agree there should be an increase, but debate how much and how quickly. Also, some Republicans and moderate Democrats think that ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity) disorders are over diagnosed and that inadequate attention to reading skills are inflating IDEA costs. In their view, addressing those problems would reduce the total cost of educating students with disabilities.

There also has been debate about disciplining students with disabilities. IDEA requires that discipline take into account whether a student's disability is related to an undesirable behavior, such as a student with attention deficit disorder who talks out of turn. But if a student's disability is not related to his or her behavior, such as bringing a gun to school, then discipline may be imposed on the same basis as for other students. Although the federal General Accounting Office has found no statistical difference in the types and rates of undesirable behaviors by students with disabilities versus other students, some policymakers say that students with disabilities are a particular discipline problem because they receive special treatment.

In late 2001, the IDEA debate centers on both level of funding and when discipline is allowed. IDEA amendments on both these issues have been included as part of Congress's required "re-authorization" of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The Senate - but not House - version of the ESEA bill includes added IDEA funding, while both versions have provisions to increase discipline of students with disabilities. One possibility is that decisions on both discipline and funding will be deferred until 2002, when Congress must "re-authorize" IDEA.

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