Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Called "IDEA," this piece of legislation is the primary source of federal aid to state and local school systems for instructional and support services to children with disabilities. The centerpiece of the Act is a state grant-in-aid program that requires participating states to furnish all children with disabilities a free, appropriate education in the least restrictive setting. Funding covers preschool, elementary, and secondary education.

A "free, appropriate education" includes:

  • Special education, defined as "specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents or guardians, to meet the unique needs of the child…including classroom instruction, instruction in physical education, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions;" and
  • Related services, defined as "transportation, and such developmental, corrective, and other supported services" needed for the child to benefit from special education. Examples of related services are speech pathology, psychological services, recreation, and counseling.

Major programs funded under IDEA include:

  • Basic state grants for education
  • Preschool state grants
  • Early intervention state grants
  • Innovative programs for children with severe disabilities
  • Post-secondary education


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