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Funding Special Education: Charting a Path that Confronts Complexity and Crafts Coherence

Today’s challenges for special education funding are rooted in a complex regulatory and policy environment that reflects little forethought about who can and will pay special education costs. Despite the fact that states and school districts are legally required to ensure a free and appropriate public education to students with disabilities, the federal government does little to fund the special education that students with disabilities receive, which places the overwhelming burden on states to implement and pay for programs. This brief examines the complex policy framework that creates this precarious funding system, and provides specific and immediate steps for federal policymakers to create a new, more coherent system of ensuring equal educational opportunities for all students with disabilities.