The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) affords eligible children the civil right of access to special education.1 Access to Early Intervention (EI) and Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) is essential to support children with disabilities at an early age, setting an early, strong developmental foundation, and putting them on a path towards success. As this report finds, not all young children are equally likely to have access to these important services.
Our key findings are as follows.
1.The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in fewer children receiving EI and ECSE services. Moreover, the pandemic led to a much larger decrease in EI services for Asian children and a much larger decrease in ECSE for Black children than for others. Such differential decreases cannot be justified, and steps should be taken to address the needs of children who missed out on services.
2.Asian, Hispanic, and Black children areless likely to receive both EI and ECSE services than are White non-Hispanic children. For Black children, the disparities in access to services are especially large and cannot plausibly be explained by differences in need. These differences are indefensible and should be eliminated.
3.Boys are twice as likely as girls to receive EI and ECSE. Potential reasons including biological differences need further study.4
4.The percentage of children served in EI and ECSE increases with state median income. Young children in states with the lowest incomes are least likely to receive IDEA services. Whether or not children receive EI and ECSE should not depend on the wealth of the state in which a child lives
1 Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (2023). Fact Sheet: Advancing Racial Equity in Early Intervention and Preschool Special Education. Retrieved from: https://ectacenter.org/~pdfs/ topics/racialequity/factsheet-racialequity-2023.pdf
2 Natural Environments for infants and toddlers receiving early intervention refers to “settings that are natural or typical for a same-age infant or toddler without a disability, may include the home or community settings.” For additional information, see: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/c/a/303.26
3 The Least Restrictive Environment requirement in IDEA stipulates that “students with disabilities receive their education alongside their peers without disabilities, to the maximum extent appropriate.” For more information see the IRIS Center Information Brief: https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/wp-content/ uploads/pdf_info_briefs/IRIS_Least_Restrictive_Environment_InfoBrief_092519.pdf
4 Skårbrevik, K. J. (2002). Gender differences among students found eligible for special education. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 17(2), 97-107