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Harkin Leads Group of Senators Pushing for Full Funding for Students with Disabilities

July 22, 2011

Harkin Leads Group of Senators Pushing for Full Funding for Students with Disabilities

WASHINGTON – With next week’s 21st Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) approaching, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced the IDEA Full Funding Act, which would fulfill the federal government’s 36-year-old commitment to cover 40% of the excess cost of educating students with disabilities.

“This bill represents a necessary step for improving educational outcomes for students with disabilities and preparing them to reach their potential and secure competitive employment in our 21st century workforce.  Full funding of IDEA – at no additional cost to the federal government -- will provide much-needed relief to already-strapped school districts and fulfill the promise we made 36 years ago to help communities provide a high-quality education to all students,” Harkin said.

Joining Harkin as co-sponsors of the IDEA Full Funding Act are Richard Durbin (D-IL), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Al Franken (D-MN), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tim Johnson (D-SD), and Mark Begich (D-AK).

Since its enactment in 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has had a profound impact on students with disabilities by supporting their right to a free and appropriate public education, but the 40% federal funding level proposed in the law has not been met. Currently, federal funds account for approximately 16% of the excess costs of educating students with disabilities, with states and school districts covering the balance for the 6.6 million students receiving special education services to help them learn.

In these difficult times, it is essential to provide the necessary revenues to enable the federal government to meet its commitment without adding to the deficit.  The IDEA Full Funding Act is fully paid for by doubling the tax on cigarettes and small cigars and setting equivalent increases to other tobacco products. In addition to the benefit of offsetting the cost of fully paying for IDEA, these tax provisions would help an estimated 1 million Americans reduce their tobacco use or quit all together and would prevent an estimated 2.2 million kids from taking up smoking in the first place.

The IDEA Full Funding Act will:
•Gradually increase the federal dollars appropriated from $11.5 billion in FY2011 (the amount provided by the FY2011 appropriations act), which covers 16.1% of IDEA costs, to $35.3 billion in FY 2021, which represents 40% of costs.
•Provide much-needed relief from the financial burden state and local taxpayers face by supplying schools the necessary dollars to boost the quality and range of services available to students with disabilities.
•Help to raise salaries for teachers and related services personnel, thereby allowing districts to enhance recruitment and retention possibilities.
•Support school districts in increasing graduation rates and postsecondary enrollment rates of students with disabilities.