Order Code RS22590
Updated January 14, 2008
The Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act (IDEA): Overview and Selected Issues
Richard N. Apling
Specialist in Social Legislation
Domestic Social Policy Division
Nancy Lee Jones
American Law Division
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides funds to states
for the education of children with disabilities. It contains detailed requirements for the
receipt of these funds, including the core requirement of the provision of a free
appropriate public education (FAPE). The statute also contains detailed due process
provisions to ensure the provision of FAPE. IDEA was revised most recently in 2004
by P.L. 108-446, but Congress has continued to grapple with issues relating to the act.
This report provides a brief overview of the act with particular attention paid to issues
of recent congressional concern, such as funding and private school enrollment. This
report will be updated as necessary.
Overview of Statutory Requirements
IDEA1 provides federal funding for the education of children with disabilities and
requires, as a condition for the receipt of such funds, the provision of FAPE. Originally
enacted in 1975, the act responded to increased awareness of the need to educate children
with disabilities, and to judicial decisions requiring that states provide an education for
children with disabilities if they provided an education for children without disabilities.2
20 U.S.C. §1400 et seq., P.L. 108-446.
For a more detailed discussion of the congressional intent behind the enactment of P.L. 94-142,
see CRS Report 95-669, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Congressional Intent,
by Nancy Lee Jones.
IDEA has been amended several times, most recently by P.L. 108-446 in 2004.3 The
act both authorizes federal funding for special education and related services4 and, for
states that accept these funds,5 sets out principles under which special education and
related services are to be provided. The requirements are detailed, especially when the
regulatory interpretations are considered. The major principles include requirements that:
States and school districts make available a free appropriate public
education (FAPE)6 to all children with disabilities, generally between the
ages of 3 and 21. States and school districts identify, locate, and
evaluate all children with disabilities, regardless of the severity of their
disability, to determine which children are eligible for special education
and related services.
Each child receiving services has an individual education program
(IEP) spelling out the specific special education and related services to
be provided to meet his or her needs. The parent must be a partner in
planning and overseeing the child’s special education and related services
as a member of the IEP team.
“To the maximum extent appropriate,” children with disabilities must be
educated with children who are not disabled; and states and school
districts provide procedural safeguards to children with disabilities and
their parents, including a right to a due process hearing, the right to
appeal to federal district court and, in some cases, the right to receive
Funding and the “Full Funding” Issue
Funding Trends. IDEA is one of the largest educational programs overseen by
the U.S. Department of Education (ED). FY2008 appropriations for the program are
For a more detailed discussion of changes made by P.L. 108-446, see CRS Report RL32716,
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Analysis of Changes Made by P.L. 108446, by Richard N. Apling and Nancy Lee Jones (cited hereafter as “CRS Report RL32716,
Analysis of Changes Made by P.L. 108-446.” For a discussion of the final regulations
promulgated by the Department of Education, see CRS Report RL33649, The Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Final Regulations for P.L. 108-446, by Richard N. Apling
and Nancy Lee Jones.
Related services (for example, physical therapy) assist children with disabilities to help them
benefit from special education (20 U.S.C. §1401(26), P.L. 108-446 §602(26)).
Currently, all states receive IDEA funding.
It should be emphasized that what is required under IDEA is the provision of a free appropriate
public education. The Supreme Court, in Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central
School District v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 177 (1982), held that this requirement is satisfied when the
state provides personalized instruction with sufficient support services to permit a child to benefit
educationally from that instruction, and that this instruction should be reasonably calculated to
enable the child to advance from grade to grade. IDEA does not require that a state maximize
the potential of children with disabilities.
$11.98 billion.7 Most of these appropriations fund the Part B grants-to-states program,
which is funded at $10.95 billion for FY2008. This program provides state grants for
services mainly for school-aged children with disabilities. IDEA authorizes two other
state grants programs: the preschool grants program (§619), which funds services for
children with disabilities ages 3 to 5 (funded at $374 million for FY2008), and the infants
and families state grants program (Part C), which funds services for infants and toddlers
with disabilities and their families (funded at $436 million for FY2008). Finally, IDEA
authorizes a variety of national activities (Part D), such as funding for personnel
preparation, parent information centers, and technology and media services (funded at
$224 million for FY2008).
Until recently, appropriations for the Part B grants-to-states program had been rising
rapidly. Between FY1997 and FY2004, appropriations rose an average of 20% per year.
The rate of increases has been less in recent fiscal years. For example total FY2008
funding was only slightly greater than FY2007 funding ($191 million, a 1.5% increase).
Despite recent slowing in appropriations growth, FY2008 appropriations for the IDEA
Part B grants-to-states program is more than four times the FY1995 amount. Funding for
the other two grant programs and for national programs has seen much slower growth. For
example, the FY2008 funding for the preschool state grants program is only about 4%
greater than the FY1995 amount for that program.
Authorizations and Maximum State Grants. Part B grants-to-states funding
and state grant amounts under this program are often compared with amounts required to
provide maximum state grants — the so-called “full funding” of IDEA. In addition, as
a result of changes made by P.L. 108-446, which provides for specific authorization levels
for the Part B grants-to-states program, it is appropriate to compare actual and proposed
funding and grant amounts to authorized funding levels and estimated state grants at those
When Congress enacted the predecessor legislation to IDEA in 1975, the available
estimate of the cost of educating children with disabilities was, on average, twice the cost
of educating other children. A determination was made that the federal government
would pay some proportion of this additional or “excess” cost. The metric for
determining this excess cost was the national average per-pupil expenditure (APPE). The
final determination was that the federal government would pay up to 40% of this excess
cost. That is, a state’s maximum grant under the grant-to-states program is 40% of APPE
times the number of children with disabilities served. (See Section 611(a)(2) of IDEA.)8
Total funds necessary to provide each state with its maximum grant are often called the
“full funding” amount for IDEA Part B grants to states. Although appropriations for
IDEA Part B grants to states have increased significantly over the last decade, funding
still falls short of the amount that would be necessary to provide maximum grants to all
states. For example, the FY2008 appropriated amount accounted for 17.2% of APPE.
For further information, see CRS Report RL32085, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(IDEA): Current Funding Trends, by Richard N. Apling and Ann Lordeman. For another funding
related issue see CRS Report RS22397, Medicaid and Schools, by Elcia J. Herz.
Under P.L. 108-446, the calculation of maximum state grants changed in FY2007. See CRS
Report RL32716, Analysis of Changes Made by P.L. 108-446, for a discussion of this change.
Prior to the enactment of P.L. 108-446, IDEA authorized “such sums as may be
necessary” for the Part B grants-to-states program. In response to debate over how and
when to reach maximum funding for IDEA, P.L. 108-446 [§611(i)] amended the act to
include several years of specific authorization levels, culminating in an amount estimated
to provide each state with its maximum grant in FY2011.
Children with Disabilities in Private Schools
A child with a disability may be placed in a private school by the local educational
agency (LEA) as a means of fulfilling the FAPE requirement for the child. In this case,
the cost is paid for by the LEA. A child with a disability may also be unilaterally placed
in a private school by his or her parents. In this situation, the cost of the private school
placement is not paid by the LEA unless a hearing officer or court makes certain findings.
However, IDEA does require some services for such children in private schools.
Children with disabilities enrolled by their parents in private schools are to be
provided special education and related services to the extent consistent with the number
and location of such children in the school district served by an LEA. Under prior law
(P.L. 105-17), it was the LEA in which the child lived that provided these services.
Under current law, these services are provided by the LEA in which the child’s private
school is located. These requirements include that the funds expended by the LEA,
including direct services to parentally placed private school children, shall be equal to a
proportionate amount of federal funds made available under Part B of IDEA.9 In
addition, the LEA must consult with private school officials and the parents of these
children with disabilities.10 Finally, there are compliance procedures that include an
appeal to the Secretary of Education.11
Due Process and Discipline
Each state educational agency, state agency, or local educational agency that receives
funds under IDEA must establish and maintain procedures designed to ensure that
children with disabilities and their parents are guaranteed procedural safeguards with
respect to a free appropriate public education.12 The various types of procedures include
an opportunity for parents of a child with a disability to examine records, participate in
meetings, and obtain an independent educational evaluation of the child; prior written
notice of a change or refusal to change a placement; an opportunity for mediation; and an
20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(10)(A)(i), P.L. 108-446 §612(a)(10)(A)(i).
20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(10)(A)(iii), P.L. 108-446 §612(a)(10)(A)(iii).
20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(10)(A)(v), P.L. 108-446 §612(a)(10)(A)(v). For a more detailed discussion
of IDEA and private schools generally see CRS Report RS22044, Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA): Services in Private Schools under P.L. 108-446, by Nancy Lee Jones.
For a discussion of issues relating concerning children with disabilities who have been
unilaterally placed by their parents in private schools, see CRS Report RL33368, The Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Parentally Placed Children in Private Schools, by
Richard N. Apling and Nancy Lee Jones.
20 U.S.C. §1415(a), P.L. 105-17 §615(a).
opportunity to present complaints.13 In addition, where a complaint is filed, IDEA
mandates procedures that require the parent or the attorney representing the child to
provide notice, including the child’s name and school, the nature of the problem, and a
proposed resolution of the problem.14 If the complaint is not resolved, the parent or LEA
has an opportunity for an impartial due process hearing.15 Prior to this hearing, the LEA
must convene a resolution session to attempt to resolve the issue. If there is no resolution
at this point, the due process hearing occurs, and the hearing officer renders a decision.
The Supreme Court has held that the burden of proof in an administrative hearing
challenging a child’s individualized education program is on the party seeking the relief.16
Any party aggrieved by the hearing officer’s decision may bring a civil action in state or
federal district court, and there is a right to attorneys’ fees in some situations.17
Generally, under IDEA, a child with a disability is not immune from disciplinary
procedures; however, these procedures are not identical to those for children without
disabilities.18 First, IDEA requires that all children, including children with disabilities
who have been suspended or expelled from school, must receive a free appropriate public
education.19 However, school personnel may suspend a child with a disability for up to
10 school days. Within 10 school days of a decision to change the placement of a child
with a disability, school personnel must conduct a manifestation determination.
Essentially, if the LEA, a parent, and relevant members of the IEP team determine that
the conduct in question was caused by or had a direct and substantial relationship to the
child’s disability, or if the conduct in question was the direct result of the LEA’s failure
to implement the IEP, the conduct is determined to be a manifestation of the child’s
disability. If the conduct is determined not to be a manifestation of the child’s disability,
the relevant disciplinary procedures applicable to children without disabilities may be
applied to the child in the same manner and for the same duration as they would be
applied to children without disabilities, except that educational services may not cease.
If the behavior is found to be a manifestation of the child’s disability, a functional
behavioral assessment shall be implemented or reviewed.
School personnel also may place the child in an interim alternative education setting
for up to 45 school days for situations involving weapons or drugs, or where a child has
20 U.S.C. §1415(b), P.L. 105-17 §615(b).
20 U.S.C. §1415(f),P.L. 108-446 §615(f).
Schaffer v. Weast, 546 U.S. 49 (2005). For a more detailed discussion of this case, see CRS
Report RS22353, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Schaffer v. Weast
Determines Party Seeking Relief Bears the Burden of Proof, by Nancy Lee Jones.
20 U.S.C. §1415(i), P.L. 108-446 §615(i). The Supreme Court held in Winkelman v. Parma
City School District, 550 U.S. __, 127 S.Ct. 1994, 167 L.Ed.2d 904, 2007 U.S. LEXIS 5902 (May
21, 2007), that parents who are not attorneys may proceed pro se with regard to their rights under
IDEA. For a more detailed discussion see CRS Report RS22667, The Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act: Supreme Court Holds that Parents May Bring Suit Pro Se, by Nancy
20 U.S.C. §1415(k), P.L. 108-446 §615(k).
20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(1), P.L. 108-446 §612(a)(1).
inflicted serious bodily injury20 upon another person while at school. School personnel
may also request a hearing officer to change the placement of a child with a disability to
an appropriate interim alternative educational setting for 45 school days. There are
specific appeals provisions for this situation in the statute.21
Interrelationship between IDEA
and the No Child Left Behind Act22
In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) (P.L. 107-110) reauthorized and
amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Among other purposes,
NCLBA aimed to improve public elementary and secondary education for all students.
One mechanism for accomplishing this goal was to require that all students reach
proficiency or advanced standing on state achievement tests of reading and mathematics
by school year 2013-2014. Public school students are to make adequate yearly progress
(AYP) each year to meet these goals. Schools and local educational agencies (LEAs) that
fail to make AYP for two consecutive years or more can face various penalties. AYP
applies not only to all students in the aggregate but also to designated subgroups, such as
children with disabilities. ED has recognized that not all children with disabilities can be
expected to achieve proficiency on academic standards set for most children. As a result,
ED permits LEAs to calculate AYP for small percentages of children with disabilities
based on alternate achievement standards (1% of all children tested) and modified
achievement standards (2% of all tested).
Another NCLBA mechanism for improving public education is to require that all
public school teachers of “core subjects” (such as reading, mathematics, history, and
science) are “highly qualified.” The requirements to be a highly qualified teacher are
fairly lengthy; however, the general principle is that such teachers demonstrate subject
matter competency in the subject or subjects they teach. The 2004 IDEA amendments
modified these requirements for special education teachers. First of all, the amendments
require that all public school special education teachers must meet a definition of highly
qualified, not just those teaching core subjects. In addition, the amendments made certain
additional modifications to apply to the NCLBA highly qualified definition with respect
to two types of special education teachers: those who teach only children with disabilities
who are held to alternate academic standards and those teaching more than one core
subject to children with disabilities.
Serious bodily injury is defined in the same manner as in 18 U.S.C. §1365(h)(3), which states,
“the term ‘serious bodily injury’ means bodily injury which involves — (A) a substantial risk of
death; (B) extreme physical pain; (C) protracted and obvious disfigurement; or (D) protracted
loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental facility.”
For a more detailed discussion of the discipline provision in IDEA, see CRS Report RL32753,
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Discipline Provisions in P.L. 108-446, by
Nancy Lee Jones.
For further information on the interrelationship between IDEA and NCLBA, see CRS Report
RL32913, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Interactions with Selected
Provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA), by Richard N. Apling and Nancy Lee
Jones. For further information on the NCLBA in general, see CRS Report RL33749, The No
Child Left Behind Act: An Overview of Reauthorization Issues for the 110th Congress, by Wayne