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Thirty-five Years of Progress in Educating Children With Disabilities Through IDEA
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Charting the Next 15 Years of IDEA Progress

Every child is a precious resource whose full potential must be tapped.

P.L. 94-142 will mark its 50th anniversary in 2025. The first 35 years since the passage of this landmark law have witnessed unparalleled national progress in ensuring access to a free appropriate public education for all children with disabilities. However, continuing IDEA progress for the next 15 years will require accepting the challenge of the 1997 and 2004 amendments to IDEA to not only ensure access to education but also improve results for infants, toddlers, children, and youths with disabilities and their families in each state and every locality across the country.

To meet this challenge, IDEA must build on its previous support for equality of access and continue to expand and strengthen its support for quality programs and services. Improving educational results for children with disabilities requires a continued focus on the full implementation of IDEA to ensure that each student’s educational placement and services are determined on an individual basis, according to the unique needs of each child, and are provided in the least restrictive environment. The focus must be on teaching and learning that use individualized approaches to access the general education curriculum and support learning and high achievement for all students.

It is known, after 35 years, that there is no easy or quick fix to the challenges of educating children with disabilities. However, it is also known that IDEA has been a primary catalyst for the progress witnessed. Because of federal leadership, the people of the United States better appreciate the fact that each citizen, including individuals with disabilities, has a right to participate and contribute meaningfully to society. With continued federal–state–local partnerships, the nation will similarly demonstrate that improving educational results for children with disabilities and their families is critical to empowering all citizens to maximize their employment, self-sufficiency, and independence.

Our nation’s ability to compete successfully in the global community depends on the meaningful inclusion of all citizens in our educational system, including students with disabilities. We cannot afford to leave anyone out of our efforts. Every child is a precious resource whose full potential must be tapped.

The Department of Education’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.

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Last Modified: 11/22/2010