Senator Tells Top Senate Appropriators that Action Necessary to Finally Fulfill Long-Unkept Federal Funding Promises to Help Educate Students with Disabilities

WASHINGTON, D.C [11/16/21]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) pressed top Senate Appropriators to continue the recent increases in special education funding that have been critically important in helping educate students with disabilities in Minnesota and across the country.

In a letter Tuesday, Sen. Smith, led a group of 12 key Senators in pressing Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Vice Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) to maintain the $2.6 billion increase in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding proposed in both the House and Senate, as they work on end-of-the-year funding bills.  The preservation of the increased IDEA funding is critical to putting Congress on a fiscally-responsible path to fully fund special education services.   

“Maintaining the increased levels of special education funding is critical to addressing inequities that limit students with disabilities from reaching their full potential,” said Sen. Smith. “For too long, the federal government failed to uphold its promises to fund special education, shortchanging our schools as they struggled to make up that cost elsewhere. It’s time we finally took meaningful action to ensure that schools can fully meet the needs of students with disabilities.”

Under the 1975 IDEA, the federal government promised to fund 40 percent of the cost of special education, but Congress has never met this requirement. Due to this funding gap, Minnesota was shortchanged $427 million in federal IDEA funding in 2017-2018. And according to Minnesota Education Department data, the difference between the costs and funding that districts have to make up in Minnesota was $724 million in 2019 and could grow to $858 million by 2023. 

The letter was also signed by Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jackie Rosen (D-NV), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Alex Padilla (D-CA).

You can read the Senators’ letter here or below:

 

 

Dear Chairman Leahy, and Vice Chairman Shelby,

We write as you work to get the fiscal year 2022 end of year spending across the finish line, to ask that you preserve and maintain the $2.6 billion increase for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Grants to States (Part B) program, bringing the program to $15.5 billion for FY2022.  This is the level put forth by both the Senate and House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bills and is a crucial increase needed to put us on the path to fulfilling full federal funding within ten years.

We thank you for you for your leadership in addressing the needs of students and families during the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing recovery.  We have heard from students, families and educators just how crucial these resources have been in ensuring that their pressing needs can be met.  At the same time, bold investments in federal programs are still needed to ensure all students, including students with disabilities, can recover and thrive.  This is especially important as today we recognize and know that each child is unique, has different needs and has the potential to succeed.

As you know, the ability to learn and grow academically is bolstered for children with disabilities by the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under IDEA.  Unfortunately, while IDEA has benefited from occasional increases, even with supplemental funds made available by the American Rescue Plan, FY2021 federal funding for IDEA Part B was just 16.5 percent, which is far below and indeed does fulfil even half of the federal promise of paying 40 percent of the average per pupil expenditure (APPE) for each student receiving special education services.

Particularly now, as schools work to address the serious impacts of the loss of services and instructional time experienced by students with disabilities, it is critical that the federal government increase the dedicated funding schools receive to fully meet the needs of students with disabilities and uphold their IDEA rights. 

We thank you for your continued support for our students, families and schools and look forward to working with you to ensure that the federal IDEA investment is increased such that our commitment to students with disabilities can be met.

Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN)

Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH)

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA)

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)

Sen. Jackie Rosen (D-NV)

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT)

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY,

Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA)

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