Last week we began our delve into the history of special education law in the United States with a review of the special education from its inception through the impact of Brown vs. Board of Education. This week, we are exploring the steps the federal government takes to protect special education students in the more recent history of special education law.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act Of 1965

Congress passes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to try and balance the inequality of educational opportunities for children of different socioeconomic classes. They sign this act into law in 1965.

In 1966, they add a grant program to the ESEA to specifically address special education programs. Above all, the grant program helps states “initiate, expand, and improve programs and projects for the education of handicapped children”. This is a landmark moment in the history of special education law because it is the first time that the federal government acknowledges the need for special education regulation.

The Congressional Investigation Of 1972

After further cases pertaining to special education law pop up throughout the country, Congress conducts an investigation in 1972. The statistics that they find are upsetting to say the least.

  • 8 million children in America need special education.
  • 9 million children are receiving the special education they need.
  • 5 million students do not receive an appropriate level of accommodation or education.
  • In addition, 1.75 million special needs children are not receiving an education at all.

The Education For All Handicapped Children Act Of 1975

This Congressional investigation leads to legislation “Public Law 94-142”, also known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. The act’s goal is to correct the concerns that present themselves in the 1972 investigation. Congress determines two objectives: provide children who have special needs with an education that meets their needs, and give those children and their family due legal process if their needs are not met.

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 set out a goal “that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education”. There are four main pillars to the act.

  • Firstly, accountability for schools to provide a proper education for special needs students.
  • Flexibility for schools to use federal funds to meet a variety of needs.
  • Place emphasis on using educational practices which educators back up with research.
  • Finally, increase choices for families at Title I schools.

The biggest change is the push toward state testing: reading and math for third through eighth grade, as well as once in high school.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004

IDEA 2004 has two primary purposes.

  • Provide special education that meets a child’s needs and prepares that child for life after high school graduation.
  • Protect the rights of those children and their families.

IDEA 2004 also analyzes how children of color are overrepresented in special education programs. The overrepresentation leads to schools mislabeling students and higher dropout rates for the overrepresented populations.

Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015

The ESSA 2015 reauthorizes the 50-year-old ESEA. To sum up, it holds schools more accountable for giving students the tools to succeed