Issue Brief 14-31
September 30, 2014

In 1975, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, P.L. 101-476) to ensure that all children with disabilities would receive a free, appropriate public education. With this law, Congress committed to funding up to 40% of the Average Per Pupil Expenditure (APPE) in public elementary and secondary education for every student receiving special education services. The 40% full funding target has led to some confusion about congressional intent. Many people believe that Congress committed to funding 40% of total special education expenditures. In fact, Congress committed to funding 40% of the national APPE multiplied by the number of children in special education.

Congress has never appropriated sufficient funds to reach the 40% threshold. For example, in fiscal year (FY) 2014, it appropriated $11.5 billion, -$23.5 billion less than the full funding amount. This brief examines recent IDEA appropriations and compares actual state grant allocations to those required to meet the 40% commitment.