The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a United States federal law that governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to children with disabilities. It addresses the educational needs of children with disabilities from birth to age 18 or 21 in cases that involve 14 specified categories of disability.
The IDEA is "spending clause" legislation, meaning that it only applies to those States and their local educational agencies that accept federal funding under the IDEA. While States declining such funding are not subject to the IDEA, all States have accepted funding under this statute and are subject to it.
The IDEA and its predecessor statute, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, arose from federal case law holding the deprivation of free public education to disabled children constitutes a deprivation of due process. It has grown in scope and form over the years. IDEA has been reauthorized and amended a number of times, most recently in December 2004, which contained several significant amendments. Its terms are further defined by regulations of the United States Department of Education, which are found in Parts 300 and 301 of Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
In defining the purpose of special education, IDEA 2004 clarifies Congress’ intended outcome for each child with a disability: students must be provided a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that prepares them for further education, employment and independent living.
Under IDEA 2004:
- Special education and related services should be designed to meet the unique learning needs of eligible children with disabilities, preschool through age 21.
- Students with disabilities should be prepared for further education, employment and independent living.
Read more about Individuals With Disabilities Education Act: Background, Early Intervention, Department of Education Regulations, Alignment With No Child Left Behind, Addressing Disproportionality, Legislative History
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