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Public Statements

Conference Report on H.R. 1350, Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. Speaker, by the direction of the Committee on Rules, I call up House Resolution 858 and ask for its immediate consideration.


Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support H.R. 1350, the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. IDEA is a fundamental civil rights program that provides funds to states for the education of children with disabilities. As the world of education faces the challenge of leaving no child behind, this program takes on extra importance. Children with disabilities should have as much opportunity as any child to reach and even exceed their potential. However, since 1975, Congress has placed yet another unfunded mandate on local communities. Since IDEA became law, Congress has authorized spending of up to forty percent of the cost of the average per pupil expenditure on special education. We in Congress have failed to meet that commitment time after time. Fiscal Year 2004 meets 18.6 percent of that commitment, not even half of what we have promised. And this represents the highest percentage since the law was passed.

As a former teacher, member of a school board, State Senator, and now Congressman, I have heard for years from numerous local officials, school administrators, and teachers about the burden IDEA has placed on their budgets and their classrooms. Our communities are dedicated to meeting their moral obligation to provide an appropriate public education for children with disabilities, but they must face the difficult decisions of cutting nonessential school programs like arts, music, and sports or raising property taxes. They would not be faced with these decisions if the federal government lived up to its promises and obligations.

At the beginning of this Congress, I introduced legislation, H.R. 823, to fully fund IDEA now because we have abdicated our responsibility to fund this mandate for three decades. While I feel strongly that we should reach full funding sooner rather than later, I am pleased that H.R. 1350 provides a timeline towards full funding by 2011. However, I worry that the omnibus appropriations bill that we will be voting on later today will fail to meet the figure authorized for Fiscal year 2005 in the legislation we now debate. I hope the positive legislating that we partake in now will be remembered later today and in the coming years when IDEA funding is debated.

While we may focus on the financial impact of this legislation, it has many important educational and moral implications. It aims to improve the collaboration between parents, administrators, educators, and students to provide the best possible education. This legislation will help schools better identify students with disabilities and get help to them sooner. It reduces unnecessary paperwork for teachers so they can spend more time teaching and aims to cut down on litigation between parents and school districts with early, effective dispute resolution. The conferees wisely removed controversial discipline provisions from the House bill while still achieving the goal of improved and streamlined disciplinary procedures.

Yet, despite all the good provisions in this bill, the fact remains that Congress and the President have a moral obligation to live up to what has been promised and neglected for so long. Yet, once again, Congress and the President are neglecting their moral obligation to live up to their words.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I hope this bill achieves its goal of improving special education and truly leaving no child behind. However, I am cynical that the goal of full funding will be reached in the timeline provided by this bill. You can be assured that IDEA will be on my mind later today when voting on the omnibus appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2005 and that I will continue to be a strong advocate and a active voice for children with disabilities.


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