Selected SLC Research


Policy Analysis | September 1, 2009

What is the size of the school-aged population served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? How has the size of this population changed?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that school districts that accept federal funding for under the Act to provide appropriate services to children with identified disabilities. Initially passed as the Education for the Handicapped Act in 1975, the legislation has grown in scope and purpose through reauthorizations, including the most recent in 2004.  IDEA mandates that students with disabilities be provided with a "free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living." (20 U.S.C. § 1400 (d)(1)(a))

Over the past decade, most states have seen considerable growth in the size of the population served by IDEA, both in absolute terms and as a share of the total population.  The policy and budgetary implications for this trend are considerable.  Because students with disabilities are more costly to serve, school budgets are straining to meet the demands of this population at a time when expenditures on education overall are rising faster than inflation.  Furthermore, the rapid rise in this population among schoolchildren complicates planning and policy development processes for schools and states.  The table below illustrates the change in this population between 2001 and 2006.

Students Served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in the Southern States

3- to 21-year-olds served

State 2000-01 2006-07 As a percent of public school enrollment, 2006-07 Percent change in number served, 2000-01 to 2006-07
Alabama 99,828 89,013 12.0 -10.8
Arkansas 62,222 68,133 14.3 9.5
Florida 367,335 398,289 14.9 8.4
Georgia 171,292 196,810 12.1 14.9
Kentucky 94,572 109,354 16.0 15.6
Louisiana 97,938 89,422 13.2 -8.7
Maryland 112,077 106,739 12.5 -4.8
Mississippi 62,281 67,590 13.7 8.5
Missouri 137,381 141,406 15.4 2.9
North Carolina 173,067 192,451 13.3 11.2
Oklahoma 85,577 95,860 15.0 12.0
South Carolina 105,922 107,353 15.3 1.4
Tennessee 125,863 120,263 12.3 -4.4
Texas 491,642 494,302 10.7 0.5
Virginia 162,212 170,794 14.0 5.3
West Virginia 50,333 49,054 17.4 -2.5
SLC Region 2,399,542 2,496,833 12.9 4.1
United States 6,295,816 6,686,361 13.6 6.2

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Digest of Education Statistics: 2008