Summary of Stimulus Bill & IDEA Funding

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February 17, 2009

ISSN: 1538-3202

Issue: 474
Subscribers: 67,228

In This Issue:

Summary of Key Points in the Stimulus Bill for Special Education

What Happened in the Final Bill?

Bill Provides Major Increase in Special Education Funding

Questions and a Plan of Action

Two Sources of Funding to School Districts

Reporting Provisions & Modernization/ADA Compliance

How to Find the Bill


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Copyright 2009, Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright. All rights reserved. Please do NOT reprint or host on your web site without explicit permission.

The final Stimulus Bill emerged on Friday. Overall, the bill will provide a major increase in special education funding, including $12.2 billion for IDEA.

In this issue of the Special Ed Advocate, Jessica Butler from the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (COPAA) explains what happened in the final bill and provides a summary of key points.

"Below are my initial thoughts on the bill, as I was asked to provide them. This is not a complete analysis, even though it looks long (because its hard to reduce this into 2 sentences and make it understandable).

The final stimulus bill emerged on Friday. It will take time for people to read it and determine how it works and interacts with the IDEA.  So, please do not read this as a final analysis, or even a semi-final one." -Jessica Butler, COPAA Co-Chair, Congressional Affairs.

Please don't hesitate to forward this issue to other families, friends, and colleagues.

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Summary of Key Points in the Stimulus Bill for Special Education

The Senate Stimulus bill would have allowed SEAs/LEAs to use all IDEA funds to supplant state/local special ed funds. This would allow states and school districts to cut overall special ed spending.  Instead of an increase in special ed funding, as the stimulus contemplated, there would be a decrease in funding. 

This provision applied to Part B and C funds, not just the additional stimulus funds. If this had passed, it would have changed a provision that has been a fundamental part of the IDEA since 1975. This would mean that  school districts could use their entire Part B and C allocations (regular allocations plus stimulus money) to reduce the funds they have to spend on special education. This would mean real cuts, in the sense that districts could divert not only their stimulus funds, but could cut more funds because of the Part B and C funds they would be receiving through the regular process.

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What Happened in the Final Bill?

The good news is that this provision was eliminated from the final bill.  Thanks to Congressman Miller, Congressman Obey and their staffs on the House side; to Senator Kennedy, Senator Harkin and their staffs on the Senate side, and to the members of the Conference Committee and Appropriations Committee who worked to protect the needs of children with disabilities.

We also thank the Disability Policy Collaboration (ARC/UCP), Easter Seals, National Center for Learning Disabilities, National Down Syndrome Society, and many disability organizations and individuals who worked on these issues during the last few weeks. We thank the many members of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, parents, family members, friends, advocates, attorneys, and others who rallied against the Senate provision in response to this threat.

We received copies of many letters that were delivered to the conferees. More calls and faxes were sent. COPAA members and other child advocates published the alerts through listservs and yahoo groups, on their webpages, and on Facebook and other social-networking pages. Thanks to everyone who promoted the alerts and who worked on this issue!

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Bill Provides Major Increase in Special Education Funding

Overall, the bill will provide a major increase in special education funding, including $12.2 billion for IDEA.  This includes $11.2 billion for Part B, $400 million for IDEA preschool funding, and $500 million for Part C. These funds are in addition to the regular Part B and Part C allocations.

IDEA has long been woefully underfunded and we have all seen the effects of this. Children are not identified for special education, or when identified, receive inadequate services and assistance. While many school districts strive to provide good special education programs, we must ensure that all children with disabilities receive appropriate educations that prepare them for independent living.

As we have seen in our communities, many families are experiencing severe economic stress, job loss, reduced hours, and cuts in their businesses and retirement funds.  This includes parents of children with disabilities who face constraints in the services they can provide for their children. 

Children with disabilities are a very vulnerable population. Before this recession, many children lived in families who facing financial stress. Before the recession, approximately 2/3 of children with disabilities lived in families that earned under $50,000 a year. Approximately 35% of children lived in families earning less than $25,000 a year.

Children with disabilities need appropriate educations and services if they are to meet the purpose of IDEA. The stimulus bill provided additional IDEA funds to meet the needs of children with disabilities. Just as adults with disabilities are vulnerable populations who need additional funding, children with disabilities are vulnerable too.

For these reasons, it was essential that Congress delineated these funds to benefit children with disabilities - not simply as additional block funding for school districts or block funding for school district job creation/preservation.

I think Congress recognized that the families of children with disabilities are facing job losses and severe economic burdens. They acted to protect those children and their needs by providing additional IDEA funding. This funding includes providing appropriate special education and related services, equipment, assistive technology, training for teachers, access to nurses, etc.

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Questions and a Plan of Action

You need to begin working with other advocates in your community and state to provide input about how these funds will be spent.  Find out the process your state and school district will use to award and spend these funds, and how you can have input.

While some states complained that getting money for two years of special education is useless, we question this claim. Assistive technology, equipment, teacher training in reading and other methodologies are important factors that will have a long-term impact. The same is true for providing appropriate services - districts must provide FAPE.

Watch for the impact of layoffs in special education. Look at the requirements for providing highly qualified special education teachers. Are appropriate staff providing services? Are these services appropriate?

Are children being shifted from 1:1 and 1:2 therapy to large group therapies?  What will your state do to increase transparency - to make public aware of how additional IDEA and School Stabilization funds are spent? What accountability mechanisms are in place?

Be part of the process and have an impact!

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Two Sources of Funding to School Districts

In the stimulus bill, school districts will get two sources of funds:

  • additional IDEA funds for 2009-10 and
  • stabilization funds. 

The increase in IDEA funds is substantial. Stabilization funds can be used for a variety of purposes, including special education and the school modernization you heard about in the press. (Separately, there are also additional funds for Title I and other educational purposes.

Under the Stabilization Funds part of the bill (a separate title called State Fiscal Stabilization Funds), the Secretary of Education will get limited waiver authority to count stabilization funds as non-federal funds when calculating maintenance of effort.  This waiver authority is intended to be very narrow. If a school district spends its stabilization funds on special education, the Secretary of Education can give a waiver so the district can count those stabilization funds as though the funds were the district's money. The district may cut its contribution to special education by a similar amount.

This waiver authority only applies to stabilization funds and requires approval by the Secretary of Education. The waiver does not apply to the Part B or Part C funding the school district receives every year, or to the additional IDEA funds in the stimulus bill. 

This is a significant improvement over the language in the Senate bill. The Senate bill would have allowed waivers for all IDEA funding -- and would have allowed greater cuts in school district and state spending for special education.

But there may be an impact on maintenance of effort requirements under the IDEA. The stimulus bill includes $11.3 million in Part B funds for FY 2009 and 2010. These funds could be awarded as lump sums to the states, which will allocate the funds to school districts.

In 20 U.S.C. 1413 of the IDEA, if a school district's allocation of Part B funds is greater than the past fiscal year, the district may reduce its spending by 50 percent of the increase.  The additional IDEA funds in the Stimulus Bill may be affected by this provision.

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Reporting Provisions & Modernization/ADA Compliance

The final law includes a list of reporting requirements in the State Stabilization part of the bill. These requirements include how the state stabilization funds are used, the state's progress in hiring highly-qualified teachers, and the state's  progress toward developing valid and reliable assessments for limited English proficient students and children with disabilities.

Modernization/ADA Compliance

State Stabilization funds may be used for school modernization. You need to find out what your school district will do to ensure that school buildings are ADA-compliant, and how to prioritize this goal. Identify schools that need improvements to be ADA-compliant. Advocate for this with your school board. Help the school board understand why ADA compliance is so important.

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How to Find the Bill

The formal name of the Stimulus bill is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The final bill is posted in several places.

The bill is posted on the House Appropriations Committee website at

The provisions relating to special education (IDEA) and the Stabilization fund are in the Document marked "Bill Text, Division A" at

The Education section begins on page 168 of the file. The section about State Stabilization Funds and waivers begin on page 425 of the document. The title is State Fiscal Stabilization Funds.

Thanks to everyone who worked to protect funding for children with disabilities in the stimulus bill!


Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates logoThanks again to Jess Butler, Co-Chair, Congressional Affairs, COPAA, for this analysis.

Find out more about the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) - a national voice for special education rights and advocacy at

Interested in COPAA Membership?

We look forward to seeing you at the annual COPAA conference in Washington, DC on March 5-8, 2009.

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