About IDEA

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children.

The IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 8 million (as of school year 2022-23) eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities.

Infants and toddlers, birth through age 2, with disabilities and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C. Children and youth ages 3 through 21 receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B.

Additionally, the IDEA authorizes:

  • Formula grants to states to support special education and related services and early intervention services.
  • Discretionary grants to state educational agencies, institutions of higher education, and other nonprofit organizations to support research, demonstrations, technical assistance and dissemination, technology development, personnel preparation and development, and parent-training and -information centers.

Congress reauthorized the IDEA in 2004 and most recently amended the IDEA through Public Law 114-95, the Every Student Succeeds Act, in December 2015.

In the law, Congress states:

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.

The stated purpose of the IDEA is:

  • to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living;
  • to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected;
  • to assist States, localities, educational service agencies, and Federal agencies to provide for the education of all children with disabilities;
  • to assist States in the implementation of a statewide, comprehensive, coordinated, multidisciplinary, interagency system of early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families;
  • to ensure that educators and parents have the necessary tools to improve educational results for children with disabilities by supporting system improvement activities; coordinated research and personnel preparation; coordinated technical assistance, dissemination, and support; and technology development and media services;
  • to assess, and ensure the effectiveness of, efforts to educate children with disabilities.

Learn more about the IDEA Statute and Regulations.

Search the IDEA Statute and Regulations.

On November 29, 1975, President Gerald Ford signed into law the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142), now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In adopting this landmark civil rights measure, Congress opened public school doors for millions of children with disabilities and laid the foundation of the country’s commitment to ensuring that children with disabilities have opportunities to develop their talents, share their gifts, and contribute to their communities.

The law guaranteed access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) to every child with a disability. Subsequent amendments, as reflected in the IDEA, have led to an increased emphasis on access to the general education curriculum, the provision of services for young children from birth through five, transition planning, and accountability for the achievement of students with disabilities. The IDEA upholds and protects the rights of infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities and their families.

In the last 40+ years, we have advanced our expectations for all children, including children with disabilities. Classrooms have become more inclusive and the future of children with disabilities is brighter. Significant progress has been made toward protecting the rights of, meeting the individual needs of, and improving educational results and outcomes for infants, toddlers, children, and youths with disabilities.

Since 1975, we have progressed from excluding nearly 1.8 million children with disabilities from public schools to providing special education and related services designed to meet their individual needs to more than 8 million children with disabilities in 2022-23.

In 2022-23, more than 66% of children with disabilities are in general education classrooms 80% or more of their school day (IDEA Part B Child Count and Educational Environments Collection), and early intervention services are being provided to more than 441,000 infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families (IDEA Part C Child Count and Settings).

Other Laws for Children with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) provides additional resources of interest for individuals with disabilities and their families.

OCR does not enforce the IDEA; however, OCR does enforce the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 and Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Title II rights of IDEA-eligible students with disabilities.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 addresses protections for students with disabilities. Section 504 is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance from the department.

OCR enforces section 504 in public elementary and secondary schools.

Section 504 states: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States… shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance….”

OCR also enforces Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which extends protection against discrimination to the full range of state and local government services, programs, and activities including public schools regardless of whether they receive any Federal financial assistance.

OCR shares in enforcement of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act with the U.S. Department of Justice.

For more on the Americans with Disabilities Act, visit www.ada.gov.

To learn more, visit the OCR’s Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities.

Visit OCR’s website for additional resources, including Disability Discrimination FAQs.

Severe Discrepancy