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Indiana Protection & Advocacy Services

IPAS > Special Education > What is IDEIA? What is IDEIA?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) is the nation's special education law. First enacted three decades ago, IDEIA provides billions of dollars in federal funding to help states and local communities provide special education opportunities for approximately six million students with varying degrees of disability.(more on IDEIA)

In exchange for federal funding, IDEIA requires states to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). The statute also outlines a detailed due process procedure to ensure that all students receive FAPE. Originally enacted in 1975, the Act responded to increased awareness of the need to educate children with disabilities and to judicial decisions requiring states to provide an education for children with disabilities if education is provided to those without disabilities.

Part A of IDEIA contains the general provisions, including purposes of the Act and definitions. Part B, the most frequently discussed Part of the Act, discusses the education of school-aged and preschool children, the funding formula, evaluations for services, eligibility determinations, Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and educational placements. It also outlines detailed procedural safeguards, discipline provisions, as well as the withholding of funds, and judicial review. Part B also includes the Section 619 program, which provides services to children aged 3 through 5 years old.

Part C of IDEIA outlines early intervention and other services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families (from birth through age 3). These services are provided in accordance with an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) developed through collaboration between families of infants and toddlers with disabilities and the appropriate state agency. Part C also provides grants to states to help support these programs for infants and toddlers with disabilities.

Part D provides support for various national activities designed to improve the education of children with disabilities, including personnel preparation activities, technical assistance, and special education research.

What is a free appropriate public education (FAPE)?

Children with disabilities are entitled to the same educational experience as their non-disabled peers. IDEIA states that the expenses associated with providing for the special needs of children with disabilities are a public responsibility-- the centerpiece of the law is the FAPE concept. Generally, FAPE means that children with disabilities are entitled to a publicly financed education that is appropriate to their age and abilities in any state that:

  • Are provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and at no cost to the parent;
  • Meets the standards of the state educational agency (SEA) including the requirements of this article;
  • Include an appropriate early childhood education, elementary school, or secondary school in the state; and
  • Are provided in conformity with an IEP that meets the requirements of this article;
  • Include the award of credit and diploma for completion of academic requirements to the same extent the credit is awarded to students without disabilities.

What is the least restrictive environment (LRE)?

When IDEA was originally enacted in 1975, Congress recognized that many children with disabilities were unnecessarily separated from their peers and educated in alternative environments. IDEA requires that states provide a FAPE to children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Children with disabilities should be educated with their peers in the regular classroom whenever possible.

An array of placements may meet the general requirements of providing FAPE in the least restrictive environment. LRE may change from child to child, school to school, and district to district. Through the child's IEP, parents and the local educational agency are empowered to make the best choice for their child's own LRE, including placements that may be more or less restrictive, to maximize the child's special education benefit.