Education Issues for People with Disabilities

A sound education is the linchpin to a successful life for all Americans, including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The federal, state, and local governments each play a role in assuring that every child with a disability obtains a free appropriate public education. Despite the existence of comprehensive federal legislation intended to ensure that all children with disabilities receive a free, appropriate public education, continuing challenges for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities are:


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that students with disabilities be educated to the maximum extent possible with students who do not have disabilities. However, many students within our constituency remain segregated in self-contained classrooms or in separate schools, with limited or no opportunities to participate academically and socially in general education classrooms and school activities. Many do not have access to the same academic and extracurricular activities and services provided to other students. Frequently, these students leave school unprepared for adult life in the community.

Special Education Funding and Teacher Preparedness

Despite some gains, special education programs continue to be under funded, particularly by the federal government. There is a significant shortage of special education teachers and related personnel (i.e. physical therapists, speech and language therapists). Approximately 40,000 teachers are not fully certified to teach special education and the turnover rate is high. This is a serious concern as far too many students are being taught by unqualified people, making student academic progress very difficult.


The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), (renamed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015),  requires that students with disabilities be assessed along with their peers who do not have disabilities. Students with the most significant cognitibe disabilities (up to one percent of all students (10% of all special education students)) can be assessed using alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards. The goal is to hold schools accountable for providing good instruction to all students so that they leave school ready to continue their educations or go to work. The US Department of Education awarded contracts to two large common core testing consortia (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) to develop computer-based assessments for students that will be used by all school districts in 2014-15. The two groups are trying to build in accessibility so that students with disabilities will be able to take the computer-based assessments. At the same time, two additional consortia (Dynamic Learning Maps and National Center and State Collaborative) are creating alternate assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities to measure their progress toward meeting college and career-ready standards. These consortia also are creating learning materials and guidance for teachers.

Restraint and Seclusion

Research and recent reports show that the use of restraint and seclusion in schools is often unregulated and used disproportionately on children with disabilities, frequently resulting in injury, trauma, and even death.

In 2009, the National Disability Rights Network issued a report detailing the harmful use of these interventions in over two-thirds of the states, involving children as young as three years old in both public and private school settings. Following that report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted an investigation finding no federal laws restricting the use of these interventions in schools, and that state laws vary widely if they exist at all.

Restraint and seclusion are often used for behaviors that do not pose danger or threat of harm, and are implemented by untrained school personnel. Numerous alternatives to restraint and seclusion exist, including positive behavioral interventions and supports and other methods for preventing and stopping problem behaviors.  Learn more at


IDEA requires schools to provide transition services for students so that they will be prepared to enter the adult world, including continuing their education and employment. However transition planning and services for students with disabilities frequently are poor. Every year between 150,000-200,000 students with disabilities age out of special education (in most states at age 22). These are some of the most vulnerable youth who have stayed in school as long as possible and are likely to have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Many of these students transition from the public school system to the adult world finding themselves with no services and with nothing to do.

Students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are required by law to have transition plans beginning at age 16. However many needed transition services such as school-based preparatory experiences, career preparation and work-based learning experiences are never provided.

Current Education Headlines

Education – The Capitol Insider
Education: Senators Introduce Bill to Improve Access to Accommodations in College

On May 22, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the Respond, Innovate, Succeed, and Empower (RISE) Act (S.1585). This bill would require institutions of higher education to accept a student’s individualized … Continue reading

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Monday, June 03, 2019 10:46:49 AM

Education: GAO Blog Notes Disparities on 65th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

May 17, 2019 marked the 65th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court Case that held public school segregation based on race was unconstitutional. In light of this anniversary, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a … Continue reading

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Monday, May 20, 2019 3:49:59 PM

Education: LPI Releases School Discipline Report

On April 18, the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) released a report titled “Protecting Students’ Civil Rights: The Federal Role in School Discipline.” The report discusses the negative impacts of zero-tolerance policies and discrimination in discipline. It notes guidance documents and … Continue reading

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Monday, May 13, 2019 3:13:46 PM

Our Legislative Agenda for Education

Committees of Jurisdiction 

Our Education Regulatory Advocacy

Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities

  • The Education Task Force monitors federal legislation and regulations that address the educational needs of children with disabilities and their families, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) programs.

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