The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) requires that a free and appropriate public education is available to eligible children and youth with disabilities.
Early intervention services apply to children through age 2 and their families. Special education and related services apply to children and youth ages 3 through 21. More than 6.5 million individuals are eligible for services under the law.
IDEA has been around in some form since 1975. Originally known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, signed into law by President Gerald Ford, IDEA has been reauthorized by Congress in 2004 and amended in 2015 through the Every Student Succeeds Act.
The IDEA statute is broken into four parts.
This section outlines the general purpose and definitions of IDEA. It includes this statement from Congress:
Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.
A key definition in this section is the term “child with a disability,” defined in IDEA to mean a child:
This section includes information about formula grants to help states provide a free appropriate public education to qualified individuals ages 3 through 21.
This section includes information about formula grants to help states provide early intervention services for children from birth through age 2 and their families.
It includes this statement from Congress, finding that there is an “urgent and substantial need”:
This section includes information about discretionary state personnel development grants; personnel preparation, technical assistance, model demonstration projects, and dissemination of information; and training, information, and related support to help children with disabilities and their parents improve their results.
Regulations for meeting IDEA requirements are put in place by the U.S. Department of Education.