Mr. President, I rise in support of the amendment to fully-fund IDEA offered by Senators Harkin and Hagel.
Nearly thirty years ago, the federal government made a commitment of equal opportunity to the nation’s children with disabilities.
With that commitment, we promised that the federal government would uphold its end of the bargain and pay 40 percent of the average per student cost for every special education student.
Today, however, the federal government is paying less that 19 percent of that cost.
Over the past few years, IDEA has received significant increases.
However, according to the Congressional Research Service, at increases of $1 billion each year, the federal government will never fulfill the promise of funding at 40 percent.
Further, even if annual increases were $1 billion plus inflation, we will not reach the promised level of 40 percent until 2035 – more than 30 years from now.
The Harkin amendment increases IDEA funding over eight years by $2 billion per year through mandatory funding.
And mandatory funding is what it’s going to take because local schools are already struggling with the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, the lack of promised federal funding, and the dismal fiscal picture facing our state and local governments.
It’s going to take real funding through mandatory spending to make for all those gaps.
This hole in special education funding doesn’t just hurt disabled students. It hurts their classmates as well.
We are forcing schools to make difficult decisions with regard to which kids get funding.
In order to make up for the federal funding shortfall, many districts have been forced to take money from their general education budget, which affects all students
I know we can do better for America’s disabled students. Let’s not make them wait another 30 years to fully-fund this law.
I urge my colleagues to fulfill the promise of IDEA and support the Hagel-Harkin amendment.