Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine, wrote recently that "...the true test of a society is the way it cares for its less-fortunate members." The US Congress passed that test this week, in moving forward on reauthorizing and improving the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) that affects some 6.5 million special-education students in public schools. House and Senate conferees agreed to needed changes in the law, setting the stage for congressional passage, and an expected presidential signature.
The reauthorized IDEA will correct many problems with the original law that had led to too much contention in schools. It should better identify kids with disabilities, get education help to them at a younger age, improve teacher training and disciplinary measures, and reduce the mountains of paperwork that have distracted special-ed teachers and administrators from their primary mission.
IDEA has long been underfunded, and the need to hold the line on total government spending in the midst of a record budget deficit will probably impact the bill's potential for complete success. Still, the measure sets out a path for full funding after six years, which would reflect a 376 percent increase in IDEA funding since 1996.
The bill looks to be a win-win for parents, teachers, and special-ed students. And it should help ensure schoolhouse doors stay flung wide open for every child, regardless of ability, so each can improve on his or her unique gifts.