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When it comes to ensuring that children with disabilities receive fair and appropriate education, the U.S. isn't living up to its promises. And now, after decades of Congress failing to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, even more severe cuts may be on the table. APTA is telling lawmakers that this disservice to children must stop.

At the center of the issue is IDEA, the 1975 law intended to guarantee that public schools are able to provide children with disabilities with the best, least-intrusive education possible. The law provides funding for schools to hire physical therapists and other non-teaching professionals who can help make that happen.

Congress initially pledged to fund up to 40% of IDEA costs. The problem: Federal funding has only been covering 14.7% of costs — and now proposed spending legislation for the 2024 fiscal year includes an additional 20% cut.

In response, APTA has taken action by throwing its support behind the IDEA Full Funding Act (S. 3213, H.R. 4519), a bipartisan bill introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate that would force Congress to make good on its IDEA funding promises.

Those advocacy efforts are bolstered by a recent letter from APTA President Roger Herr, PT, MPA, to House and Senate leaders, urging Congress to adopt the highest proposed IDEA funding levels, "ensuring that these vital educational programs survive well into the future."

In the letter, Herr explains the important role PTs and PTAs play in providing children covered under IDEA with the education program promised to them under the U.S. Constitution. He writes that they "support families in promoting their children’s development, learning, and participation in family and community life by using their knowledge and skills specifically related to motor and self-care function, assistive technology, and medical and health care science to provide a unique contribution to school and early-intervention teams."

Herr includes APTA's recommendations for specific funding levels that would increase grants to states, preschool grants, funding focused on infants and toddlers, and more. Additionally, the association recommends additional funding for other programs that impact individuals with disabilities including the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, the Institute for Educational Sciences, and the Every Student Succeeds Act.

"Education throughout our country is at a critical inflection point," Herr writes. "As districts and schools deal with personnel loss, mental health impacts that still are yet to be fully understood, and other pandemic-related challenges, now is not the time to cut funding to support our neediest students."

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