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The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act was adopted by Congress in 1975 to mandate how States should provide education to special needs children from birth to age 21.
It is not really a law as States do not have to comply with the Act, but all 50 states have chosen to follow the mandate and receive federal funds issued for its purpose in providing educational access and equity for students with disabilities and identified special learning needs.
There have been many updates to the Act since it's beginning in 1975. In 2004 Congress defined further that all children with special needs are entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education [FAPE] to prepare the child with the least restrictive learning environment.
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Before Congress adopted IDEA, children were not mainstreamed into the public school system. Only 20% of children with special needs were educated before 1974 in school communities. Most children were institutionalized and the few that were placed in the school were put into classrooms with other special needs children. Now more then 6 million students are in public schools receiving services because of IDEA.
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Any child that is found to be eligible for services under the IDEA is then put on an IEP or Individual Education Plan.
The school writes a personal plan for the child's particular needs. These might include Speech and Language, Occupational Therapy, or Psychologist services. It may also provide for special transportation or modifications in the classroom. The IEP defines exactly what that student needs to help them be successful in the "Least Restrictive Environment" of learning.
These plans are then signed by the school district and the parents and are revisited every year for updating and every three years for a re-evaluation. IEPs are used in the student's classroom to help teachers provide special accommodations or modifications of the lesson plans and assessments.
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Problems With IDEA
One of the major problems with the IDEA is funding. Special Education is very expensive. The Federal Government was supposed to fund 40% of the program and has so far only funded 12%. This puts the burden on the State Government and with the current economy and school deficits, towns and districts are having to pick up the tab for special education accommodations. This may present another problem of funding existing education programs for all students in school communities.
There are also children who could be defined as " unteachable" because they are in a vegetative state or severely disabled and the state is still responsible for providing an education to students with disabilities. This may put an additional responsibility on the town or district to pay for the child's accommodations under IDEA.
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Reaching Their Full Potential
It would be helpful for school districts today if the Federal Government would become more consistent with educational funding as a main priority in funding IDEA in order to relieve the educational burden that state and local governments have in the current fiscal year.
The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act has helped children for over 30 years reach their full potential.Where students used to be "put away" now they can learn and work with all children in the public school setting. Students can get the services that they need to be successful and transition toward a greater future in higher learning in colleges or vocational education communities.
http://www, ED Gov. Idea 97