Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

In 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed into law by the federal government, and was supported by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to ensure services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.

Escalating costs, stagnant funding

Federal funding of IDEA
IDEA’s legislation included the goal that the Federal government would provide 40 percent of the extra costs necessary to support the inclusion of special needs children in the general education. However, the Federal government has not met its commitment to fully fund the law at 40 percent of the cost. Funding is typically around 15 to 20 percent of the cost, leaving the states and individual municipalities to foot the rest of the bill. The National Association of School Boards continues to encourage the Federal government to meet its commitment so all students with special needs receive the education and resources they deserve.

State funding of IDEA
Pennsylvania’s share of funding for special education is low, in comparison to other states, with local school districts paying most of the costs. Since 2008, the annual increase in State funding for Special Education Funding (SEF) has averaged only 1.7 percent per year, not even keeping pace with the overall inflation growth of 3 percent a year. In recent years, State funding increases for Special Education even lags behind State funding for Basic Education Funding, which has been increased an annual average of 5 percent.

Problems with the SEF formula
Pennsylvania’s SEF formula assumes that 16 percent of all students in each of its 501 school districts require Special Education services. Actual student counts in nearly all districts are either significantly higher or significantly lower than this assumption.

Why this matters in UDSD
When the Federal government makes mandates and does not adequately fund the mandates, the funding problem gets passed on to the states, and from there, the problem of finding funding gets passed on to the local school districts. In Upper Darby School District, 18 percent of the enrolled students are eligible for Special Education services. Although the percentage is within a few tenths of one percentage point of the State average, with an overall student population significantly higher than most, UDSD has many more actual students to serve than most school districts in Pennsylvania.

If the Federal government kept their commitment when they enacted IDEA, to fund 40 percent of the special education costs, UDSD would be owed $16.6 million for the 2012-2013 school year alone. Meanwhile, although the number of students with disabilities in UDSD, as in the State overall, has increased annually, Pennsylvania’s funding for special education continues to remain stagnant within UDSD. Furthermore, the state’s special education subsidy of $6.8 million accounts for only 4 percent of the entire UDSD 2012-2013 yearly budget, while special education costs account for 18 percent of the same yearly budget. Upper Darby Township residents could not bear the burden of a tax increase to the percentage that would be required to close the funding shortfall created by various under-funded mandates, including IDEA.

The 2012 UDSD Academic Realignment proposal included program cuts to curriculum and instruction at the elementary and middle school levels. This proposed elimination of the related arts teachers and dedicated instructional time was designed to meet two challenges, both of which have financial impact: boost performance on upcoming, mandated State assessments in core content areas, and narrow the funding gap created by ever-increasing costs.

What can taxpayers do?
Contact legislators to ask what they are doing to adjustment the funding formula for special education costs.