Understanding Full Funding

What, exactly, is “full funding” of IDEA?

The term is misleading, and, therefore, the funding “promise” made by Congress in IDEA is often misrepresented. It’s really pretty simple, however.

Back in 1975 when Congress enacted original special education law – then called the Education of All Handicapped Children Act and later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – Congress set a maximum target for the federal contribution to special education spending equal to 40 percent of the estimated excess cost of educating children with disabilities. At the time, Congress estimated that educating children with disabilities would cost approximately twice as much as it costs to educate non-disabled children. So, Congress committed to providing 40% of the excess cost of providing special education (not 100% as is often reported), and set the federal contribution at 40% of the average per pupil expenditure (APPE) nationwide. (Note: One nationwide study showed that special education costs are 1.9 times that expended on general education students.)

So then, if IDEA were “fully funded,” the annual federal appropriation would be 40% of the national average per pupil expenditure – referred to as “APPE” – for elementary and secondary education times the number of children with disabilities served. To be clear, when sent off to local school districts around the country, that amount would not be 40% of the excess cost in every district – the percent would vary depending on how much each local district spends on education. The amount districts spend “per pupil” varies significantly across the nation!

Check out your state’s IDEA funding gap below:

2015 IDEA Funding Gap by State

Source: National Education Association The Federal Funding Gap under IDEA. Chart reprinted with permission.

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