One of the key issues facing Congress is fulfilling its 27-year pledge to provide sufficient funding.
When the federal government first passed special ed legislation in 1975, it promised to cover 40 percent of the additional costs incurred by districts to educate students with disabilities. This pledge, which is commonly referred to as "full funding," has never been kept. Currently, districts receive federal funds covering only about 15 percent of the promised special ed funds.
This broken promise has been particularly harmful to resource-starved urban districts, which have a higher percentage of special education students. In Milwaukee, for example, 15.3 percent of the students are classified as special education, compared to 12 percent nationwide.
State and local districts have been forced to pick up the rest of the costs. Again, urban districts - already suffering from the well-known "savage inequalities" in funding - bear the brunt of the burden. As a result, students in special education in urban districts are often in larger classes and have fewer support services than their more affluent suburban counterparts.
Conservatives, seizing upon legitimate criticisms, are using the rhetoric of reform to massively reduce federal funding of what they call the "special education bureaucracy." But reducing funding will only exacerbate, not solve, the problems facing special education.