Funding Special Education in America

Funding Special Education in America









Funding Special Education in America

            With the establishment of the Education for All Handicapped Children’s Act in 1975, all children with disabilities were entitled to receive free public education. This would be facilitated by the provision of funds by the federal government to schools and other learning facilities. The ratification of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997 guaranteed that disabled students would not be segregated in the educational sector. In addition, the law addressed the children’s transition from high school to post-secondary education in order by focusing on the individual’s eventual independent living and financial self-sufficiency (Skiba & Simmons, 2008). The law also covered autism, traumatic brain injury and in due course attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as those conditions that necessitated special education. This is in addition to such disabilities/disorders as blindness, depression, stuttering, bipolar disorder, cerebral palsy, deafness, dyslexia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Tourette syndrome, and Down syndrome. Both of these statutes, as well as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind Act) of 2001, resulted in an enhanced awareness and conscription in special education. The rate of enrollment continues to accelerate, making the issue of funding for special education in the country ever more serious.

Special education funding in America is primarily done by the Federal Government. This is done through grants offered to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). The funds are distributed according to the amount received by each state historically; the poverty level, as well as the number of children aged three to twenty one in their jurisdiction. One type of grants provided by OSEP is known as IDEA Formula Grants and is given to states to help them provided free appropriate public education (FAPE) for those children with disabilities who are between the ages of three and twenty-one. In addition, in accordance to Part C of the IDEA, allowances are offered to states in order to provide them with the means of offering young infants of two years or less adequate intercession to deal with the potential for disabilities (Gottlieb & Alter, 1994). Another type of OSEP grant is known as IDEA Discretionary Grant, which is given to higher education institutions and other organizations for research purposes, personnel development, technical assistance, parent-training centers, and demonstrations.

In addition to federal funding, special education in America is also provided through state and local means. State funds are availed to school divisions in order to offset the costs of implementation of special education programs. An amount is paid for each child counted in the school division by the state. This amount is arrived at by calculating the theoretical number of aides and teachers required to meet special education standards in every school. Those children enrolled in private schools get funding through a pool existing under the Comprehensive Services Act that pays the state’s share of the costs. Local funds on the other hand are allocated by the governing body and their amount is determined by local school boards (Skiba & Simmons, 2008). These boards cost out all the special education programs and subtract expected federal, state and other sources’ revenues in order to determine how much funding local governing bodies will provide.

In 1999-2000, approximated fifty billion dollars was used by states and the District of Columbia on special education services, and an additional seventy-eight billion was used on regular education services meant to school young students with disabilities (Skiba & Simmons, 2008). This means that about twelve thousand dollars was used on the education of each student with special needs. Only nine percent of this is provided through federal funding. States on the other hand provide nearly forty-five percent of funding while the remaining forty-six percent is provided by local districts. States use various systems to allocate funds meant for special education. These systems are pupil weights, resource-based, percent reimbursement, full sate funding, and flat grant.

States that use the pupil weights formula base their allocation on the student “weights” determined by disability and placement. This system is used by close to 34 percent of the states, which include Texas, Georgia, Arizona, South Carolina and Indiana. Opponents of this scheme affirm that it creates an inducement for over-identification of students for special education. The flat grant formula on the other hand provides a fixed amount of funding per student regardless of placement and disability. Now, this scheme is being applied in just one state (Skiba & Simmons, 2008). A resource-based system specifies specific resources, for instance classroom units, aides and teachers, on whom the money is spent. When a proportional compensation system is considered, it is notable that the amount of funding is verified by the district special education programs’ expenditure. Full state funding system often works in addition to another system and happens when a state maintains another stream of funding that districts with high-cost students with disabilities can access.

Funds for special education allocated to school districts are used on various resources. To begin with, special education funds are used for supplementary aids and services. This refers to all services, aids and additional supports provided in regular classrooms and other settings, which enable those students with disabilities to learn together with students without disabilities as much as possible. This use of funds is aimed at ensuring that children with disabilities interact as much as possible in an education setting with non-disabled children, an approach known as inclusion. Another use of special education funds is that of early intervening services. This refers to programs and services aimed at providing non-identified students who may be struggling behaviorally and/or academically with resources usually reserved for children with special needs in order to aid them in their learning process.

Special education funds are obviously also used for addressing those unique needs that children with disabilities have. This is done through hiring of special education teachers, aides and other personnel involved in the instruction process of the child with disabilities. In addition, purchasing of special equipment used by special needs children in school such as wheelchairs also falls under this category. Fitting of the school or learning place with facilities and equipment that improve the efficiency of mobility and learning of special needs students is also included in the classification of special education requiring intensive supervision. Finally, special education funds are also used for administrative management of special needs cases. This is through acquiring of the appropriate technology for data collection, record keeping and other administrative services required by personnel providing the special education services as well as the students with the special needs (Skiba & Simmons, 2008).

Despite numerous efforts that have been undertaken to ensure that adequate education is available to all children with special needs, under-funding still poses a problem. While state and local funds may be substantial, many feel that federal funding needs to be increased in order to address pertinent issues surrounding special education. Ideally, the Federal Government should provide about 40 percent of funding for special education programs. However, this has not yet been realized, adding pressure on the states and local governments to offset the remaining costs (Gottlieb & Alter, 1994). The effects of poor funding can be seen through the low number of special needs education teachers needed to instruct the rising number of children with disabilities adequately.

There have been instances of local governments asking for reimbursement of additional funds spent on special education that was meant to be provided by the state but which was not. In one of such instances, taxpayers that represented two hundred and twenty five school districts sued the state of Michigan for underfunding of special education services and programs by amounts that go into hundreds of thousands of dollars. Numerous other cases and incidents indicate that special education programs do not receive adequate funding from the federal and state government. Indeed, school districts receive only a percentage of what the state and federal governments should provide, sometimes going as low as 75 percent. The rest of the percentage is usually left up to the local school districts, which is beyond what they should provide towards funding of special education (Gottlieb & Alter, 1994).

In addition to the current problems facing funding of special education, there is always a constant fear that budget cuts may affect the Federal Government’s contribution to special education programs. This would largely influence the instructors assigned to special education schemes, their aides and other personnel available to teach children with disabilities. In addition, all other special education services and programs directly funded by the Federal Government would be affected. This would have a negative effect on the quality of education accorded to children with disabilities. It is important that all stakeholders ensure that they play their role in making FAPE accessible to all students affected by various disabilities and that all the funds allocated for special education programs are used appropriately. For instance, states should ensure that they meet the Federal Government’s maintenance efforts requirements of all mandated programs. Doing so would prevent the unfortunate incidence of the federal agency’s withholding of funds set aside for special education programs.

Provision of appropriate education for every child in America is one of the federal, state and local government’s roles. America’s children include individuals with disabilities and their education too is of utmost importance. Because the average child with a disability spends about three times the amount spent by a nondisabled child on education, funding may be demanding. Nevertheless, it should still be done in order to equip the individual with the appropriate skills to take him through life.



















Gottlieb, J., & Alter, M. (1994). Special education in Urban America: It’s not justifiable for many. The Journal of Special Education, 27(4), 453-465.

Skiba, R. J., & Simmons, A. B. (2008). Achieving equity in special education: History, Status, and Current Challenges. Exceptional Children, 74(3), 264-288.

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