Looking for our new site?

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Federal Funding for Students with Disabilities

  • By
  • Clare McCann,
  • New America Foundation
June 27, 2014

In Federal Funding for Students with Disabilities: The Evolution of Federal Special Education Finance in the U.S., New America provides a history of special education financing in the U.S., and highlights the latest shift in the mission of the IDEA funding formula: a change from providing dollars directly based on the number of special education students, to ensuring the federal government provides sufficient resources for those students without encouraging the over-identifi

Senate Panel Approves New Early Education Funding for 2014

July 15, 2013
Publication Image

For more details on the Senate Appropriations Committee Labor-HHS-Education bill, check out this post from our sister blog, Ed Money Watch.

Senate Appropriations Panel Approves 2014 Spending Bill

July 15, 2013
Publication Image


For more details on early education in the Senate Appropriations Committee Labor-HHS-Education bill, check out this post from our sister blog, Early Ed Watch.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted last week to approve a fiscal year 2014 spending bill for the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services (HHS), and Education. (Fiscal year 2014 starts this October 1.) That development is a reminder that key funding decisions for education programs are wending their way through Congress, and that the House and Senate could not be further apart in their proposals.

While the House hasn’t yet published or voted on an education appropriations bill for 2014, it indicated earlier this year that it would reduce overall funding substantially – from $150 billion in 2013 to $122 billion next year – for the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services (HHS), and Education.

Why the big cut? The House wants to conform to the spending limit set forth in law by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which requires total appropriations funding be cut by $18 billion from fiscal year 2013 to 2014, to $966 billion. But the House also wants to hold defense spending harmless in those cuts, with domestic programs making up the difference. (For more details, check out our April issue brief on this issue, Federal Education Budget Update: Fiscal Year 2013 Recap and Fiscal Year 2014 Early Analysis, and our May post, House Could Set Education Funding Back to Year 2001 to Fund Defense.)

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are ignoring the $966 billion overall appropriations limit for fiscal year 2014, and instead drafting bills within a $1.058 trillion limit. The president, for his part, supports that higher level.

Leaving aside the gulf between the House and Senate, the Senate’s committee-passed Labor, HHS, and Education bill totaling nearly $166 billion gives us some clues about senators’ priorities in the budget fight that looms in the latter half of the year. (See table below for more details.)

For most programs, the Senate appropriations bill would reverse the across-the-board spending cuts (sequestration) that took effect earlier this year, and would actually increase funding for many programs. The Senate Appropriations Committee would increase the two largest federal K-12 programs, Title I grants to school districts and special education grants to states, from 2013 levels, even over the pre-sequester total. The committee would also reverse sequestration for Improving Teacher Quality State Grants and the Teacher Incentive Fund, but wouldn’t increase funding over those levels. It would bump up Impact Aid slightly from 2013 pre-sequester totals.

Under the bill, the Obama administration’s signature competitive grant programs, Race to the Top (RTT) and Investing in Innovation (i3), receive funding for new competitions next year. The Department of Education would run a Race to the Top college affordability and completion competition, rather than the early learning and K-12 ones it has already run. But the bill would appropriate only $250 million for the competition, shy of the $548 million it received last year pre-sequester and well short of the administration’s requested $1 billion. It would fund i3, meanwhile, at $170 million, above the $149 million provided in 2013. The committee also approved a healthy increase in funding for state data systems, from $38 million last year to $75 million.

Another of the administration’s own initiatives gets a mention, too: preschool. The Senate Committee explains that the president’s “Preschool for All” program isn’t included in the appropriations bill because the administration requested mandatory funding for it, which is provided outside the appropriations process. (Sen. Patty Murray [D-WA] has said she plans to introduce this portion of the pre-K plan separately.) But the Senate panel did include the president’s requested $750 million for Preschool Development Grants to help states build systems, as well as a $1.6 billion increase to Head Start, much of which will go to the White House’s proposed Early Head Start-child care partnerships.

On the higher education side, the Committee maintains a maximum Pell Grant award of $4,860, which, when combined with supplemental entitlement funding, brings the total figure to an estimated $5,785. It also awarded small funding increases to several pet projects, including international education and the high school intervention programs TRIO and GEAR UP. The president’s request for $250 million for a First in the World higher education competition was not granted.

In total, funding for the Department of Education – and for discretionary spending across these three agencies – would increase next year. But as explained above, it’s so far from what the House has indicated it will support that the two committees may as well be on different planets. It’s too early to say what the ultimate House-Senate agreement looks like for fiscal year 2014 education funding, but not too early to predict that a lot of squabbling lies ahead.


New America Education Database Includes Updated Special Education Expenditures Per District

April 5, 2013

The Federal Education Budget Project (FEBP), Ed Money Watch’s parent initiative, maintains the most comprehensive education database available on funding, demographics, and outcomes for every state, school district, and institution of higher education in the country. This week, we’re announcing an update to the database: FEBP’s federal special education funding at the school district level is now up to-date for years 2010 and 2011.

Special education funding comprises the second-largest federal K-12 program, behind Title I grants to economically disadvantaged students. In fiscal year 2012, Congress allocated $11.6 billion to special education grants to states under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part B.  The funding is divided across the states according to a complicated formula that factors in fiscal year 1999 levels of funding, the share of children ages 3 through 21, and the share of those children living in poverty. (To learn about some of the complicating factors of IDEA, check out our background page on the subject.)

States then divide the money across school districts through a number of different formulas. That’s why FEBP collects its district-level IDEA data directly from the states. The data are displayed at edbudgetproject.org, where you can plug in your own district and compare it to others of similar funding levels and locale types, within or across states, alongside other related data points like student poverty rates and per-student spending levels.

For example, we looked at one large urban district – Clark County School District in Nevada, which encompasses Las Vegas. Funding for the district increased slightly for IDEA Part B each year from 2009 through 2011 – up from $37.3 million in 2009 to $39.5 million two years later.


Meanwhile, though, special education enrollment held relatively steady – fluctuating by a tenth of a percentage point over the same period from a low of 10.3 percent to its peak of 10.5 percent. And student poverty rose quickly from 15.6 percent to 21.7 percent. Although it’s hard to make comparisons across state lines without significant caveats, the data still provide valuable micro-level analyses. 

The latest update also includes IDEA Sec. 619 preschool grantsfor 2010 and 2011, as well as the number of children served by those early intervention programs, for those states which are able to provide the data at a school district level.

Head to edbudgetproject.org to look up your school district, compare it to other districts, and perform your own analysis. The full data file is also available for download here.  And for more background on special education grants and other federal education programs, check out FEBP’s background and analysis pages here.

New Maintenance of Effort Provision Removes Protection for Special Education Students

March 26, 2013

A legislative provision, buried eight hundred pages into the continuing resolution passed by the House and Senate last week and signed into law by President Obama, could hold significance for states that have reduced their spending on special education in recent years.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal law that governs special education policy, states are required to meet maintenance of effort every year to continue receiving federal education spending. Maintenance of effort (MOE) forces states to provide levels of funding for special education that are at least equal to the prior year’s state spending levels. Unless they are granted waivers from the U.S. Department of Education, states that fail to comply see their federal special education allocations drop by the amount that they failed to provide at the state level – permanently.

But the new language in the continuing resolution says states that fail to meet maintenance of effort will no longer be held permanently liable for that drop in state spending. Instead, the Department of Education will only be able to cut a state’s federal allocation for one year. In the following year, and in every year thereafter, the state’s federal allocation will revert to the higher amount.

Additionally, in the year in which the Department of Education cuts a state’s federal IDEA allocation, the amount of federal funding that the state loses will be redistributed across all other states.  The funding will follow the same formula as regular IDEA spending, with 85 percent distributed according to the population of children ages 3-21 in the state and the remaining 15 percent according to the poverty rate of children ages 3-21. States will pass on the additional funds to school districts under the same statute as regular IDEA funds.  Any state that fails to meet maintenance of effort is not eligible to receive a portion of the extra funds.

The policy change is hardly hypothetical, as this post from Education Week’s Politics K-12 blog explains. South Carolina, whose congressional delegation was instrumental in pushing for the measure, currently stands to benefit the most. In each of fiscal years 2009, 2010, and 2011, South Carolina cut its special education budget. The 2010 cuts were a bridge too far. The Department of Education refused to grant the state a full waiver for its excessive cuts that year and vowed to cut the state’s IDEA allocation by $36 million, effective October 2012.

Kansas faced similar challenges from the Department of Education last year, and ultimately lost $2 million in federal special education funding. In both cases, the reduction in federal IDEA funding would permanently lower the state’s IDEA allocation, were it not for the new provision contained in last week’s continuing resolution.

In effect, the new IDEA provision is a win-win for states. Gone are the very serious punishments for states that do not preserve their special education spending levels every year. And if a state does fail to meet maintenance of effort, every other state benefits by sharing in the spoils of its rescinded funding. States have seen unprecedented challenges in filling budget shortfalls throughout the recession, and the new provision gives flexibility to states that have made significant sacrifices to other areas to preserve special education funding. Still, maintenance of effort has been a cornerstone of federal special education policy for years, requiring states to live up to their promises to kids with special needs and protecting those children from budget cuts. The new policy revokes that protection and instead gives states a pass when they fall on difficult budget times.

Doing the Math: The Cost of Publicly Funded ‘Universal’ Pre-K

March 14, 2013

During the media frenzy that followed President Obama’s unprecedented call for expanding pre-K to all four-year-olds in the United States, we estimated that the additional cost to states and the federal government, combined, to be somewhere between $10-15 billion per year. We estimate that the feds and the states currently spend about $9 billion on pre-K for four-year-olds.

We wanted to explain exactly how we came to that conclusion.

Whiplash: From Last Week’s Hope to the Prospect of Deep Funding Cuts

February 22, 2013

The early education world is about to suffer some serious whiplash. Last week was a time of excitement and hope, as President Obama announced his proposal for expanding preschool. This week the mood is the opposite, as federal spending cuts look increasingly likely, spelling potential hardship for a wide swath of programs, including Head Start, special education services and Title I school funding.

New Resources on Head Start

December 12, 2012

Yesterday the Early Education Initiative issued a new report by Maggie Severns, “Reforming Head Start.” In addition to this issue brief on Head Start “recompetition,” readers can also access our new Head Start background and analysis page, which was released in September as part of our pre-K expansion of the Federal Education Budget Project.

How the Pell Grant Program Overtook PreK-12 Education Programs

November 14, 2012

In 2009, President Obama and a Democratic Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), an economic stimulus package that included large, one-time cash infusions for some of the federal government’s largest education programs.  But since then, Congress and the president reset funding for key PreK-12 programs back to their prior funding levels and haven’t increased it since. Meanwhile, they’ve ensured that the Pell Grant program for undergraduate students from low-income families maintained the one-time funding gains and then some. Will a second-term Obama administration continue this Pell-at-the-expense-of-everything-else policy?  First, let’s review how policymakers got here.

Under the stimulus bill, Title I funding for disadvantaged PreK-12 students grew by $10 billion.  Special education state grants under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) nearly doubled, with an extra $11.3 billion, in addition to the program’s regular 2009 appropriation of $11.5 billion. And the Pell Grant program for low-income college students got a $15.6 billion add-on to its 2009 appropriation of $17.3 billion.

Since then, lawmakers have boosted the U.S. Department of Education’s budget overall by a healthy sum (especially when compared with other agencies), up from $59.2 billion in fiscal year 2008 to $68.1 billion in 2012. Amidst that healthy increase, however, lawmakers kept Title I funding and IDEA funding essentially flat.

What explains the overall funding increase? A big part of it went to Pell Grants. But there is more to the explanation. After the stimulus money had run out for other education programs, lawmakers approved four additional years of emergency supplemental funding for Pell Grants, which coincided with a separate increase to an entitlement funding stream for the program that started in 2008. The result may be the largest funding increase for any federal education program in history—while other programs remained flat.


Here’s the kicker: That emergency supplemental funding lawmakers approved for Pell Grants will run out this year. So the program needs another infusion of funding of about $5.8 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, just to keep it going in its current form. The following year that figure jumps to $8.7 billion. Over the next 10 years, the total gap is $76.5 billion.

Over the coming weeks and months, it’s time for lawmakers to starting thinking about smart ways to reform the Pell Grant program and put it on a sustainable funding path—but also to ensure that the program serves low-income college students well. PreK-12 programs have a lot riding on that outcome.

Romney Education Plan Would Face Significant Political Hurdles

September 14, 2012

By Jennifer Cohen Kabaker

This post originally appeared on Ed Money Watch.

Several months ago, the Romney campaign released a document titled “A Chance for Every Child” that outlined the candidate’s education platform. Buried in the document is a proposal to “voucherize” the two largest federal programs for K-12 education: Title I and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) state grants. The proposal would allow eligible students to take that funding with them to the public or private school or district of their choice. While such student-based funding is gaining popularity, can a student really just show up at a school with federal vouchers in hand and demand to be educated? No. It’s not that simple.

For one, federal funds do not come close to covering the cost of that child’s education. To solve that roadblock, Romney’s plan is predicated on another, related concept – open enrollment. Open enrollment ideally gives students an opportunity to seek out the highest-quality educational opportunities, a worthy goal especially when targeted at low-income and high need students. The platform states that under a Romney administration, the U.S. Department of Education would ensure that every state has an open enrollment system.

Syndicate content