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Saturday, March 23, 2024

IDEA Reauthorization is Overdue

  In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Mitchell L. Yell & M. Renee Bradley (2024) Why We Have Special Education Law: Legal Challenges to the IDEA, Exceptionality, DOI: 10.1080/09362835.2024.2301820

In 1974, the Education for all Handicapped Protection Act was signed into law by President Gerald Ford. This law which was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990, established a federal entitlement to special education for eligible students with disabilities. In 1982 and again in 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified the primary purpose of the law, that is the obligation of public schools to provide eligible students with a free appropriate public education. In this article we (a) examine the legal underpinnings of special education in the IDEA, (b) analyze legal challenges to IDEA, focusing on the U.S. Supreme Court’s efforts to define the IDEA-mandated free appropriate public education (c) focus on the limits of the law to require scientific solutions for improving special education and (d) offer potential solutions to these challenges in the law and in the federal government’s efforts to improve special education.

From the article:

 Reauthorization of the IDEA is overdue and although it is unclear when this may occur, it will present advocates, researchers, and practitioners with an opportunity to support positive changes in the law. For example, the IDEA (20 U.S.C. § 1415[k][1][D][ii]) and its implementing regulations (34 C.F.R § 300.530[d][ii] and [f][1][i]) currently only require that school districts conduct functional behavioral assessments and develop or revise behavior intervention services and modifications ‘as appropriate’ if there is a disciplinary change of placement. Adding this language to the evaluation requirements of the IDEA could make a difference in due process hearing rulings and in court cases. 

Another example of a positive change that could be made in the IDEA is in the definition of FAPE. The definition has not changed since 1975 and courts have noticed this. In fact, in the 10th Circuit court opinion in Endrew F. it was noted that ‘Congress has maintained the same statutory definition of FAPE from its initial inception in the EHA and in each subsequent amendment to the Act’ (Endrew F., 2015, p. 1339). The 10th circuit court used this as one of its justification for maintaining the lower ‘some’ educational benefit standard rather than adopting the higher ‘meaningful’ educational benefit standard used in a few circuits. Admittedly, this is only dicta10 but it, nonetheless, gives insight into the court’s rationale. What if, in the next reauthorization, the definition of was changed to reflect the Supreme’ Court’s ruling in Endrew F. and even strengthen it? Could this make a differences in hearings and court cases? Perhaps. 

Third, researchers, and practitioners should not dismiss the historic and important role of the Part D programs in enhancing state and local implementation efforts. Historically, Part D investments have provided important evidence and information that has served as the foundation for improvements to the IDEA. As an example, the National Center on Education Outcomes, was instrumental in 2004 reauthorization discussions resulting in the inclusion of students with disabilities in state accountability efforts. The Part D investments provide support to ensure special education training programs can support preservice training for desperately needed special education personnel. Examples of some of the investments that have, and will continue to have, a profound influence on special education are the national centers such as the CEEDAR Center (, Center of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (, Iris Center (, National Center on Intensive Intervention (, National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (, Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (, Progress Center ( and Center for Parent Information and Resources (