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History and Funding

IDEA is the acronym for the "Individuals with Disabilities Education Act"

For most of the 20th Century, this country ignored the disabled. Before 1975, 80 percent received no formal education. Many states had laws keeping the disabled out of public school because disabled kids upset the non-disabled and took up too much of the teacher's time. The Civil Rights struggle helped disabled students.

A coalition between Civil Rights organizations and parents secured the enactment of statutes in 13 states. Courts began to rule that the 14th Amendment gave the disabled the right to a free and appropriate education. However as late as 1969 North Carolina had a statute that allowed them to label a child as "uneducable" and made it a crime to challenge the decision. 

In 1966, Congress amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to include funds for the education of disabled children and to create the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped. By 1974, most of the legal protections that characterize special education, as we know it were in place. Both case law and statutes prohibited the exclusion of disabled students from public school and required schools to make every effort to place disabled children in classrooms with their nondisabled peers. 

Federal funding, together with a clearer, more specific regulations, came with passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act EAHCA in 1975, Public Law 105-17, which was renamed IDEA in 1990. With the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Congress justified the legislation on two major grounds: as an anti discrimination measure, and as a long-term investment in the nation's economic health. We have come a long way.

Today schools educate more than six million disabled children including toddlers and preschools and from the age of 3 to 21. IDEA cast a wide net and covers many disabilities, Thirteen disabilities are listed in the regulation including Autism, Deaf-blindness, Deafness, Emotional disturbance, Hearing impairment, Mental retardation Multiple disabilities, Orthopedic impairment, and Other health impairment. 

IDEA has also help changed the public perception of the disabled. Today we are accustomed to seeing the disabled where we work. Businesses are willing to employ those with more than a physical disability. Many disabled today live independent and productive lives. It really was the right IDEA! 

Schools estimate it cost 40 percent more to educate the disabled. When Congress passed IDEA in 1975, they promised to provide the additional 40 percent in 1982. They never have. Over the years, Federal funds for IDEA have averaged about 12 percent. Currently they provide 14.8 percent. 

As the number of disabled children enrolled in schools increases, especially children with autism, this has become a nationally tragedy. Keep in mind schools must provide a Free and Appropriate Education to the disabled it is the law. Without the funds all children, disabled and non-disabled suffer. 


Get involved NOW! 2002 is the year Congress must reauthorize IDEA.  Many in Congress want to limit funding or stretch it out for decades.  We need full funding, it needs to be mandatory.  It needs to be soon.  

Write your governor and tell him or her to tell their Congressional Delegation to support full funding of IDEA and to make it mandatory not discretionary. 


Write your Representative and both Senators. Tell them they made a promise in 1975 and it is important for them to keep it.  It is important that you make it clear full funding is needed now, not in ten years.

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