May 8, 2024

Splitting the Bill: Special Education Briefs

By Krista Kaput | Jennifer O'Neal Schiess

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Nationally, students with disabilities make up 14.7% of the population of public school students, increasing from 13.2% in 2016. Students with disabilities bring many assets to schools and communities and often require specialized support to meet educational goals, particularly in general education settings. Since 1975, federal law has guaranteed the right of children with disabilities to receive the educational services they require to be successful beginning in infancy and extending to age 21.

The federal government plays a substantial role in funding special education services, allocating more than $14 billion to states in Fiscal Year 2021. Even with this investment, research raises questions about the adequacy and equity of special education funding. 

To support policymakers, advocates, and other education leaders, Bellwether has published three briefs examining federal funding for special education that may be most helpful when read in the following order:   

  1. How Do School Finance Systems Support Students With Disabilities? 
  2. What are the Major Policy and Funding Components of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?  
  3. What are the Core Funding Components of the “Grants to States” Funding (IDEA Part B, Section 611) in IDEA? 

These briefs are part of our larger Splitting the Bill series that explains the nuts and bolts of state education finance. While the other briefs in the series focus on state education finance policy, our special education funding briefs highlight the prominent role of federal policy and funding in shaping how states and public school systems provide services for special education students.   

We have also developed a tool as a companion to these briefs that allows users to examine federal and state special education revenue (total revenue and per-pupil revenue) and special education student enrollment trends over time in their state and nationally.  The tool aims to provide more tailored information to individual state stakeholders – policymakers, education leaders, advocates, families, and educators – to support them as they work to ensure special education funding equity.   

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