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NEA president marks 40th anniversary of landmark IDEA legislation

WASHINGTON - November 29, 2015 -

Sunday, November 29 marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), landmark legislation that ensures all students with a disability are provided with a free, quality public education. NEA has long supported IDEA. It is a civil rights law by nature that has opened access to millions of children who otherwise might not receive the support programs and services they need to be successful. It continues to hold great promise for millions more.

Today, dedicated educators in our nation’s public schools are educating millions of children with disabilities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of children and youth ages 3–21 receiving special education services was 6.4 million, or about 13 percent of all public school students, in 2012–13. Some 35 percent of students receiving special education services had specific learning disabilities.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García issued the following statement:

“As a nation, we have come a long way in the past 40 years when it comes to understanding and educating children with disabilities. The law opened the doors to more opportunities for millions of children to learn and play alongside their general education peers. Today, we remain firmly committed to the promise of IDEA to make sure all students with disabilities receive a free, appropriate public education regardless of background of ZIP code.

“Although we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go. A key area that still needs attention is for Congress to fulfill the promise it made in 1975 to fund 40 percent of the average per pupil expenditure to offset the costs of providing educational services to students with disabilities. Congress has never come close to that mark, and is currently at just 16 percent of the share, forcing states and local communities to make up the difference.

“We urge Congress to strengthen this landmark legislation so that educators can continue to provide our students with the academic tools, social, and emotional skills needed to succeed in life.”

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The National Education Association ( is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

Contact: Celeste F. Busser, Senior Press Officer