Sad IDEA: Hypocrisy & be­trayal from Congress

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - OPINION - By Joseph Ba­tory Times Guest Colum­nist Joseph Ba­tory is the for­mer su­per­in­ten­dent of schools in Up­per Darby, and the au­thor of three books and nu­mer­ous pub­lished ar­ti­cles on pol­i­tics and ed­u­ca­tion.

In 1975, the Congress of the United States passed sweep­ing leg­is­la­tion that guar­an­teed full ac­cess to the ben­e­fits of the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem for all stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties. This 43-year-old fed­eral law (now known as the In­di­vid­u­als with Dis­abil­i­ties Ed­u­ca­tion Act, IDEA) rep­re­sents Amer­i­can ideals at the high­est. It cre­ated in­clu­sion and equal­ity for what had once been our na­tion’s most disenfranchised young peo­ple. With the in­cep­tion of this new fed­eral law in 1975, one mil­lion chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties pre­vi­ously kept at home or in in­sti­tu­tions were brought into the pub­lic school sys­tem. Later amend­ments in­creased the scope of IDEA to in­clude even in­fants and pre-school chil­dren.

Congress knew full well when it passed this leg­is­la­tion that the costs to pub­lic schools would be sub­stan­tial. So the fed­eral govern­ment made “a prom­ise” to ap­pro­pri­ate 40 per­cent of the cost of IDEA each year. Un­for­tu­nately, this com­mit­ment of Washington’s elected of­fi­cials has been sorely lack­ing. It is a sad tale of fed­eral gov­ern­men­tal ab­di­ca­tion of its re­spon­si­bil­ity.

For decades, Congress has never come close to its prom­ise to fund 40 per­cent of the an­nual cost of the stu­dent spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices as­so­ci­ated with this ex­pen­sive law. In­stead, school dis­tricts and state govern­ments have had to make up the dif­fer­ence for the an­nual short­fall of promised fund­ing from Washington. Huge sums of money raised via lo­cal and state tax rev­enues each year have had to sup­ple­ment this fed­eral law, which has never been sub­si­dized at the des­ig­nated amount by the govern­ment that en­acted it.

Over the 43 years that IDEA has been law, pub­lic school dis­tricts have been short­changed by hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars. The clos­est the fed­eral govern­ment has ever come to reach­ing its 40 per­cent com­mit­ment to IDEA fund­ing was 18 per­cent of the to­tal cost in 2005. For the 2017-2018 school year, the fed­eral ap­pro­pri­a­tion of fund­ing for IDEA’s six mil­lion stu­dents is only 15 per­cent of the cost. Mean­while, the grow­ing num­ber of stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties has in­creased by more than 25 per­cent over the last 20 years.

For all that this law has ac­com­plished for the stu­dents it serves – which is now about 13 per­cent of all en­rolled stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to the most cur­rent data of the Na­tional Cen­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion Statis­tics – the fed­eral govern­ment’s fail­ure to meet its promised fund­ing obli­ga­tion has wreaked havoc on state and lo­cal bud­gets and at times left dis­tricts scram­bling to meet stu­dent needs.

This im­pact of this in­ad­e­quate fed­eral fund­ing has been dev­as­tat­ing as more and more lo­cal and state monies for gen­eral school needs are now di­verted from nec­es­sary in­struc­tional ma­te­ri­als, in­no­va­tive pro­grams, ad­di­tional needed teach­ers, re­me­dial pro­grams, tech­nol­ogy en­hance­ments, “state of then art” staff train­ing, and build­ing ren­o­va­tions.

Just about ev­ery ed­u­ca­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion in the coun­try – and now even a few mem­bers of Congress – is on record ar­gu­ing that the fed­eral govern­ment honor this com­mit­ment. So where is the con­science and the moral fiber of Washington’s elected of­fi­cials?

Iron­i­cally, so many of these politi­cians have been elected on their pi­ous “lip ser­vice” to moral­ity, honor and in­tegrity. How­ever, ig­nor­ing its own es­tab­lished com­mit­ment to prop­erly fund IDEA is hyp­o­crit­i­cal and a be­trayal of our na­tion’s spe­cial needs stu­dents by the Congress of the United States.

“Where is the con­science and the moral fiber of Washington’s elected of­fi­cials.” — Joseph Ba­tory

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