Rep. Angie Craig shaking hands with a student

District 196 is supporting a bill to increase federal funding for special education services to the 40-percent level that Congress promised when the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) was originally enacted in 1975.

Known as the IDEA Full Funding Act, the bill proposes to increase federal funding for special education by a specified amount or percentage each year, starting in 2019, until reaching 40 percent of the average per pupil expenditure in 2028 and continuing thereafter. The bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives March 26 and is awaiting a committee hearing. It is authored by U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman of California and is cosponsored by Minnesota Congresswoman Angie Craig.

“Representative Craig understands the need to increase federal funding for special education services and we thank her for supporting this bill,” said District 196 Superintendent Mary M. Kreger. “We are proud of the quality of the services we provide to students with disabilities, but the lack of funding from the federal government has created an ongoing financial burden for school districts all across the country. This bill would increase opportunities for all students by mitigating the special education funding gap.”

IDEA was enacted to ensure that all students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education. The law mandates that states and school districts provide services for students with a wide range of disabilities, including hearing impairment, language impairment, learning disabilities and autism. The services authorized by IDEA help prepare these students for further education, employment and independent living.

When IDEA was originally approved and when it was reauthorized in 2004, Congress pledged to pay 40 percent of the average per pupil expenditure in IDEA Part B grants to states. The federal government has fallen far short of this commitment, never providing more than 19 percent of the average per pupil expenditure.

In fiscal year 2018, funding from the state and federal governments covered just 59 percent of what it actually cost District 196 to provide special education services. The other 41 percent or $29 million in unfunded special education costs were paid out of the district’s general fund last year. Increasing funding for special education has been one of the district’s legislative priorities for several years running, including this year.

Rep. Craig visited District 196 March 21 to hear from students, parents, teachers and School Board members about the impact of underfunding for special education in the district. She heard about the $7 million in budget adjustments for 2019-20 that were approved by the School Board earlier this year. Without a significant increase in funding from the state or federal governments, the district will face an additional $18 million in cuts the following two years. To avoid those cuts, the School Board is likely to ask voters for an operating levy referendum this November to increase local funding.

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