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Doing Your Homework:
The Most Powerful Advocacy Tool in IDEA 2004: Your State Advisory Panel
by Sue Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

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The most powerful tool in IDEA 2004 is also the most overlooked - the state advisory panel described in Section 1412(a)(21) of IDEA. (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, page 82)

Each state has an advisory panel. The panel provides the state department of education with guidance about special education and related services for children with disabilities.

Does special education in your community or state need to be strengthened or improved? You need to think about becoming a member of your state advisory panel.


Members must be representative of the population in the state and must be "individuals involved in, or concerned with, the education of children with disabilities, including -

parents of children with disabilities (ages birth through 26);

individuals with disabilities;


• representatives of institutions of higher education that prepare special education and related services personnel;

• State and local education officials, including officials who carry out activities ... under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act;

• administrators of programs for children with disabilities;

• representatives of other State agencies involved in the financing or delivery of related services to children with disabilities;

• representatives of private schools and public charter schools;

• not less than 1 representative of a vocational, community, or business organization concerned with the provision of transition services to children with disabilities;

• a representative from the State child welfare agency responsible for foster care (this new in IDEA 2004); and

• representatives from the State juvenile and adult corrections agencies." (20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(21)(B)(xi); Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, page 82)

A majority of the members of the panel must be individuals with disabilities or parents of children with disabilities.


According to IDEA, "The advisory panel shall

• advise the State educational agency of unmet needs within the State in the education of children with disabilities;

comment publicly on any rules or regulations proposed by the State regarding the education of children with disabilities;

• advise the State educational agency in developing evaluations and reporting on data to the Secretary under Section 1418;

• advise the State educational agency in developing corrective action plans to address findings identified in Federal monitoring reports under this part; and

• advise the State educational agency in developing and implementing policies relating to the coordination of services for children with disabilities. (Section 1412(a)(21)(D)(v); Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, page 83)

Are your aware of "unmet needs" in educating children with disabilities in your state? Are services for children with disabilities fragemented? Is your state developing rules and regulations to implement IDEA?

Your state advisory panel can help ensure that these needs are met, that the quality of special education services and service providers improves, and that your state special education regulations are consistent with the federal special education regulations published in August 2006.


The meetings of your state advisory panel are open to the public. Look for the meeting schedule, list of members, agendas, and meeting minutes on the website of your state department of education.

Attend a meeting or two. Find out the procedure for public input at meetings. Some panels may prefer to receive your input in writing. Others may have an open forum as part of the meeting agenda.

If you decide you are interested in becoming a member of your state advisory panel, contact the chair of the panel. If you can't find information about your state advisory panel, contact your state Protection and Advocacy organization and ask for information about the panel, public input, reports, and the schedule of meetings.

Get the Word Out

If you are already a member of your state advisory panel, you know how important it is to get input from parents of children with disabilities.

Consider adding a link to the contact information for the advisory panel on the Yellow Pages for Kids directory for your state.

Send an email
to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities to add the contact information for your state advisory panel to their list of resources for your state.

More than 7 million children with disabilities are receiving special education and related services. If one parent is advocating for each child, that's more than 7 million parents.

Let’s put us all to work!

More Resources

State Advisory Panels on Special Education

State Advisory Panels Contact Information (pdf format)

IDEA 2004:Section 1412 - State Eligibility (Catch-All Statute)
Section 1412: State Eligibility (the Catch-All Statute) includes many different areas: free appropriate public education; child find; least restrictive environment; equitable services for children in private schools; tuition reimbursement for unilateral placements; assessments, state advisory panels, alternative assessments, accommodations guidelines, and more.

IDEA Regulations & Commentary

IDEA Regulations, Subpart B - State Eligibility, General - Includes FAPE and LRE requirements, ESY, services to children in private schools, state and LEA eligibility - See pages 204-231 Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2d Edition.

Commentary to the Regulations - State Eligibility - For the commentary about State Advisory Panels, see pages 46615-46617.

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Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Merrimack, New Hampshire, is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that is published by Harbor House Law Press.

In Doing Your Homework, she writes about reading, research based instruction, No Child Left Behind, and creative strategies for using federal education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools. Her articles have been reprinted by SchwabLearning.org, EducationNews.org, Bridges4Kids.org, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys. Sue Whitney's bio.

Sue has served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC) and has been a volunteer educational surrogate parent. She currently works with families as a special education advocate.

Copyright © 2002-2015 by Suzanne Whitney.

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