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Patterns in the Identification of and Outcomes for Children and Youth With Disabilities
NCEE 2010-4005
January 2010

Legislative Background

Since the 1960s, federal legislation has focused on educating children with disabilities, providing grants to improve education and services for the children and their families. In 1975, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHA), also called Public Law 94-142, ensured that children and youth ages 3 through 21 with disabilities have equal access to an education. Through this law, the federal government offers grants to states to help support the direct services provided for children determined to be eligible under the law to receive a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) in the general education environment "to the maximum extent appropriate."

In a series of reauthorizations of this landmark legislation over the subsequent three decades, other provisions were added, including provision of federal funding to support services to 3- to 5-year-olds and infants and toddlers (ages birth through 2 years) with disabilities (P.L. 99-457). In 1990, P.L. 101-476 renamed the EHA as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and extended the law to support youth with disabilities in the transition to young adulthood. The reauthorization of IDEA in 1997 (P.L. 105-17) placed greater emphasis on improving students' inclusion in accountability systems, giving them access to the general education curriculum, and improving their academic performance, including improving the developmental outcomes for infants and toddlers.

The most recent reauthorization of IDEA in 2004 (P.L.108-446) brought further evolution in the law. Although IDEA 2004 continues to ensure all children with disabilities receive a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE), amendments affected state and local policies by stipulating that children with disabilities make progress in the general education curriculum and improve their academic and developmental outcomes. The 2004 reauthorization was aligned more clearly with the guiding federal legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Specifically, states are expected to align their performance goals and indictors for children with disabilities with their definition of adequate yearly progress (AYP) and report on graduation rates and drop-out rates. Children with disabilities are expected to participate in state assessment systems and demonstrate continued improvement and progress in their academic outcomes, including those students who take an alternate assessment. States publicly report on children with disabilities' participation and progress toward meeting state goals on the assessments with the same frequency and detail as for children without disabilities. For children receiving early intervention and preschool services under IDEA, greater emphasis is on targeting developmental and academic outcomes, including preliteracy and language skills, as specified in the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individualized Education Program (IEP).

IDEA 2004 also made changes affecting who could be served with IDEA funds. First, local education agencies can use a portion of the IDEA funds to provide early intervening services in grades K through 12 for students struggling with and needing additional academic and behavioral supports to succeed in the general education environment. Second, states are required to establish policies to prevent inappropriate overidentification by race and ethnicity of children with disabilities and to collect and examine data to determine whether significant disproportionality on the basis of race and ethnicity exists in the state and districts.

To implement the law, federal funds supplement state and local funds. Part C of IDEA provides states with grants to support early intervention services for infants and toddlers from birth through age 2 and their families. Part B, Section 619, provides states with funding specifically to support special education and related services for preschool-age children, ages 3 through 5. Part B, Section 611, provides grants to support states' special education services for school-age students, ages 3 through 21.1 The total formula grants to states have increased in current-year dollars from $3.78 billion in fiscal year (FY) 1997 to $11.76 billion in FY 2008. In addition to the FY2009 annual formula grants, $12.20 billion in IDEA funding was provided to States through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-5, also known as ARRA or the Recovery Act). To obtain these resources, states submit to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) their applications, which include assurances regarding how the State identifies children who are eligible for IDEA services, and ensures the provision of appropriate services to children with disabilities. States vary in the ways that they implement both the identification of eligible children with disabilities and the provision of IDEA services.


1 Of the two remaining subparts of the law, Part A states the purposes of IDEA, including definitions of key concepts. Part D authorizes a discretionary program, the National Activities to Improve Education of Children With Disabilities, designed to support the implementation of IDEA, including research, technical assistance and dissemination, state improvement grants, and training personnel to educate students with disabilities.