At AEI, Nat Malkus cautions that the Endrew F. decision does not resolve all special education issues.
Even after this decision — arguably the biggest Supreme Court special education ruling in decades — the definition of an “appropriate” IEP is only a little clearer for districts and parents. In stipulating that equality of opportunity was too high a bar and that trivial benefits were too low, the court left open a vast middle ground to negotiate IEPs based on the “unique circumstances of the child.”
In fact, the Endrew F. case will soon contend with this middle ground. The Supreme Court’s decision sends the case back to lower courts to determine whether the district’s IEP meets the “meaningful benefit” standard. While the court handed parents a victory, it also reiterated that lower courts should defer to districts’ expertise in determining what is appropriate, leaving the burden of proof squarely on parents. The floor for appropriate in FAPE has been raised, but it is difficult to know whether that will make a difference in this case and others like it.
What is more certain is that the decision will raise fiscal pressures on public school districts. Special education costs have risen substantially in recent decades, but those increases have primarily been due to increasing numbers of students, not increasing per-pupil costs. The Endrew F. ruling will raise those costs, both by increasing districts’ willingness to provide services to clear a higher standard and, potentially, by increasing the number of families districts must reimburse for private school tuition.