Reprinted from the Delaware County Daily Times 2 15 2018
Guest Column of Joseph Batory
In 1975, the Congress of the United States passed sweeping legislation that guaranteed full access to the benefits of the public education system for all students with disabilities. This 43-year-old federal law (now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA) represents American ideals at the highest. It created inclusion and equality for what had once been our nation’s most disenfranchised young people. With the inception of this new federal law in 1975, one million children with disabilities previously kept at home or in institutions were brought into the public school system. Later amendments increased the scope of IDEA to include even infants and pre-school children.
Congress certainly knew when it passed this legislation that the costs to public schools would be substantial. So the federal government made “a promise” to appropriate 40 percent of the cost of IDEA each year. Unfortunately, this commitment of Washington’s elected officials is a sad tale of federal governmental abdication of its responsibility.
For decades, Congress has never come close to its promise to fund 40 percent of the annual cost of the student special education services associated with this expensive law. Instead, school districts and state governments have had to make up the difference for the annual shortfall of promised funding from Washington. Huge sums of money raised via local and state tax revenues each year have had to supplement this federal law, which has never been subsidized at the designated amount by the government that enacted it.
Over the 43 years that IDEA has been law, public school districts have been shortchanged by hundreds of billions of dollars. The closest the federal government has ever come to reaching its 40 percent commitment to IDEA funding was 18 percent of the total cost in 2005. For the 2017-2018 school year, the federal appropriation of funding for IDEA’s six million students is only 15 percent of the cost. Meanwhile, the growing number of students with disabilities has increased by more than 25 percent over the last 20 years.
For all that this law has accomplished for the students it serves – which is now about 13 percent of all enrolled students, according to the most current data of the National Center for Education Statistics – the federal government’s failure to meet its promised funding obligation has wreaked havoc on state and local budgets and at times left districts scrambling to meet student needs.
This impact of this inadequate federal funding has been devastating as more and more local and state monies for general school needs are now diverted from necessary instructional materials, innovative programs, additional needed teachers, remedial programs, technology enhancements, “state of then art” staff training, and building renovations.
Just about every education organization in the country – and now even a few members of Congress – are on record arguing that the federal government honor this commitment. So where is the conscience and the moral fiber of Washington’s elected officials?
Ironically, so many of these politicians have been elected on their pious “lip service” to morality, honor and integrity. However, ignoring its own established commitment to properly fund IDEA is hypocritical and a betrayal of our nation’s special needs students by the Congress of the United States.
Joseph Batory is the former superintendent of schools in Upper Darby, and the author of three books and numerous published articles on politics and education.