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7.3 million Children in American, 14 percent of all public-school students, receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 

California serves an estimated 800,000 students with physical, cognitive, and learning disabilities. They make up about 1 in 8 of California’s public-school students. These students struggle with communication, learning, and thinking differences, such as ADHD, Autism, and Dyslexia. A lack of awareness, stigma and a culture of status quo leaves them misunderstood, undiagnosed, and left behind. With the odds against them and lack of appropriate supports and services, many of these children are prevented from reaching their true potential.

Despite California spending, nearly $13 billion annually on students receive special education services. State accountability data show that many of our students with disabilities have lower academic achievement outcomes than their peers, and Districts are failing our students at disproportionate rates. During the 2018-2019 school year Students with disabilities’ average test score on state reading and math assessments was at the 18th percentile of all test takers.  Statics show that Students with disabilities also have a lower four‑year graduation rate than other student groups and have a suspension rate that is almost double the statewide average.  

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)


In 1975 the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142), now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was signed into law. Congress reauthorized the IDEA in 2004 and most recently amended the IDEA through Public Law 114-95, the Every Student Succeeds Act, in December 2015.

The law guaranteed access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) to every child with a disability. Subsequent amendments, as reflected in the IDEA, have led to an increased emphasis on access to the general education curriculum, the provision of services for young children from birth through five, transition planning, and accountability for the achievement of students with disabilities.

In the law, Congress states:

Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.


The stated purpose of the IDEA is:

  1. to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them 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;

  2. to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected;

  3. to assist States, localities, educational service agencies, and Federal agencies to provide for the education of all children with disabilities;

  4. to assist States in the implementation of a statewide, comprehensive, coordinated, multidisciplinary, interagency system of early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families;

  5. to ensure that educators and parents have the necessary tools to improve educational results for children with disabilities by supporting system improvement activities; coordinated research and personnel preparation; coordinated technical assistance, dissemination, and support; and technology development and media services;

  6. to assess, and ensure the effectiveness of, efforts to educate children with disabilities.


Other laws that protect the Rights of Children with Disabilities:

  • California Education Code, Section 56000-56865

  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Title II rights of IDEA-eligible students with disabilities.





U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

California State Legislature, Legislative Analyst's Office, The California Legislature's Nonpartisan Fiscal and Policy Advisor.

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