Every student who gets special education is covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In many areas, IDEA leaves room for states to interpret the rules and pass their own laws on how to apply them.
State laws can’t contradict IDEA, and they can’t provide less than the federal law requires. They can offer more protections to kids and parents. Understood, a non-profit organization that provides information and support to the parents of children with learning and attention issues, offers some examples:
|Federal Law (IDEA)||State Laws|
|Who is eligible for special education||IDEA says students who have one of 13 types of disabilities may qualify for special education. To be eligible, the disability must “adversely affect” their educational performance.||States must follow IDEA, but they can have guidelines on who qualifies for each disability type.
For example, qualifying under the category of “specific learning disability” can differ by state. States can even allow it to vary by school district within the state. States may also use different models for deciding if your child is eligible. That’s why a learning issue that qualifies as a “specific learning disability” in one state may not in another.
|Free appropriate public education (FAPE) and least restrictive environment (LRE)||IDEA says every child with a disability is entitled to a free and appropriate education.
Kids with disabilities must also receive special education in the LRE. There must be a continuum of placements available, from self-contained to inclusion classrooms.
|States must provide FAPE, but they have leeway in what instruction or services to provide. For instance, states can decide on the types of educational programs to use. And many different programs could be “appropriate.”
States must educate children with disabilities in the LRE. But states can choose how to structure their schools as long as they provide special education in several types of placements.
|Early intervention||IDEA provides for early intervention for kids with developmental delays or specific health conditions. But it doesn’t actually define “delay,” state who is eligible or spell out who pays for what services.||Each state decides what constitutes a delay, who is eligible for services and who pays for what.
Some states are more generous than others. Some pay for physical therapy or family training. Others require parents to cover some costs.