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Colorado joins fight for more special education funding

“The number of students with disabilities served under IDEA has increased by 25 percent in the past two decades."
Image by mnplatypus from Pixabay

Last week Congressman Joe Neguse joined with California Representative Jared Huffman and Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen to support legislation that would fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. 

IDEA was passed in 1975 which then intention to ensure that children with disabilities have access to educational opportunities. When originally drafted, the federal government committed to pay 40% of the average per pupil expenditure for special education. 

Since IDEA’s inception, Congress has “failed to provide the funding it promised,” a news release from Neguse’s office states. The federal government currently contributes less than 13%.

“The number of students with disabilities served under IDEA has increased by 25 percent in the past two decades. Yet, the IDEA state grant program was only funded at around $12 billion in 2017,” the National Center for Learning Disabilities states on its website

The lack of funding for special education forces school districts — already faced with budget cuts and reduced resources — to make difficult decisions. Some of those decisions include which programs to fund and diverting funds from programs that serve all students, the National Center for Learning Disabilities states. 

Districts may also be unable to increase teacher salaries, decrease class sizes or update classroom resources further impacting the retainment and recruitment of special education teachers.

In 2020, the IDEA funding gap in Colorado was $317 million. It is estimated that Colorado should have received $493.6 million but only got $176.6 million from the federal government, according to IDEA Money Watch.

St. Vrain Valley School District has around students in its special education program with a budget of $45.6 million. Only 14% of that funding comes from IDEA. The remainder is made up of the Special Education Categorical Funding from the state of Colorado at 24.7% and the district’s General Fund Total Program at 61%, according to the district.  

"IDEA has brought a transformative impact on the lives of millions of children across the U.S., providing them with a platform to thrive, and ensuring their differences are not a barrier, but a strength. Investing in IDEA is, in truth, investing in our nation's future by empowering every student with the tools they need to succeed,” said Dr. Don Haddad, superintendent of the St. Vrain Valley School District.

The IDEA Full Funding Act would require mandatory increases in IDEA spending. More than 20 senators and over 60 House members support the act. 

“For years I’ve joined parents, teachers, and education advocates from across Colorado in calling on the Congress to increase IDEA funding, so that the federal government can follow through on its promise to fully fund this essential program and support students with disabilities. Today, we are once again asking our colleagues to join us in the fight to give every student the chance to succeed,” Neguse said.