The Obameter

Fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

"Barack Obama has been a strong and consistent advocate for fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Congress promised to shoulder 40 percent of each state's "excess cost" of educating children with disabilities, but it has never lived up to this obligation. Currently, the federal government provides less than half of the promised funding (17 percent)."


Congress unlikely to fully fund IDEA Act

President Barack Obama stood firmly alongside special education advocates during his 2008 campaign, supporting the full funding Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Obama's budget proposals have included gradual increases to funding the state grants for special education – including a small bump to $12.86 billion for 2012– but Congressional budget battles have made the prospects for full federal funding of the IDEA bleaker than ever.

Congress's promise to shoulder 40 percent of each state's "excess cost" of educating children with disabilities has dogged the act's supporters since it was passed in 1975. Actual federal commitment to the costs has recently hovered between 17 percent and 20 percent of the total in recent years.

That's certainly not going to change anytime soon, said Joel Packer, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a nonprofit coalition of education funding advocates.

"We support full funding, but the chance of that happening is close to zero,” said Packer. "They haven't said let's cut IDEA, but they haven't proposed significant increases in IDEA. The problem overall is that Congress is fixated on cutting funding for everything.”

Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced legislation in July 2011 to fully fund IDEA at 40 percent, but it never left the Senate Finance Committee.

Without full funding, special education costs are shifted to state and local governments, where budgets are also shrinking.

Although Obama does not control Congressional purse strings, he emphasized his support of the full funding as part of his campaign. With long-term budget deficit issues, no one expects the appropriations to ever reach Obama"s goal, and since we rate the promises based on results rather than intent, we rate this Promise Broken.


American Association of School Administrators, IDEA Full Funding Act

Department of Education,Fiscal Year 2012 Action

Interviews with Joel Packer, Committee for Education Funding, Dec. 2, 2011

Interview with Nancy Reder, National Association of State Directors of Special Education, Nov. 18, 2011

Stimulus provides huge boost, but long-term plan still unknown

The stimulus package passed by Congress in February and signed by President Barack Obama provided a massive infusion of money to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: $12.2 billion to be exact.

According to an April 1, 2009, news release from the Education Department, "The IDEA funds under (the stimulus) will provide an unprecedented opportunity for states, (local educational agencies), and early intervention service providers to implement innovative strategies to improve outcomes for infants, toddlers, children, and youths with disabilities while stimulating the economy."

The stimulus is a one-time infusion of money, though, available for only two or three years, and the department's release says efforts will be made to "thoughtfully" invest the money to minimize the "funding cliff" when the stimulus money goes away.

While special education advocates hailed the stimulus funds for the IDEA, some are also wary of the government's long-term commitment.

Mary Watson, president of the Board of Directors of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, testifying before a House education committee in March, expressed gratitude for the stimulus funds but said that while that money "will help states in the short term, our members and their local special education colleagues remain concerned about the long-term funding picture for IDEA."

Her fears were not allayed when the Obama administration proposed a 2010 budget that did not include any increase for the IDEA, but rather would keep the funding level at $12.57 billion.

In a June 1, 2009, story in the Early Childhood Report, Watson said, "We were certainly appreciative of the recovery funds, but we were hoping that there would be some consideration for 2010-2011 to start building for full funding for IDEA."

The same story notes that some legislators, at least, want to ensure that funding doesn't revert to current levels once the stimulus money runs out.

"I don't want to go back," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over education. "Once we've reached this plateau, I don't want to go back down."

Certainly, the stimulus money fulfilled Obama's promise in the short-term, and perhaps there is a plan to increase the yearly budgeted funding once the stimulus runs its course. But that still remains to be seen in future years budgets, and so we'll move this one to In the Works.


Education Department Web site, news release: "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: IDEA Recovery Funds for Services to Children and Youths with Disabilities," April 1, 2009

H.R. 1, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

CQ Transcripts, Statement of Mary Watson, President of the Board of Directors of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, before the Committee on House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies, March 18, 2009

Early Childhood Report, "President proposes no increase in IDEA budget," June 1, 2009