The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the “IDEA”) has been a part of our public education system since 1975. The IDEA was enacted in response to the exclusion and inadequate education of children with disabilities. The IDEA is widely viewed as having opened the doors to education to previously excluded children. During the summer of 2001, as Congress labored to pass new standards for public education, the Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush's administration resisted efforts to increase funding for special education, asserting that the IDEA needed reforms that money could not address. This article argues that the resources already available through the IDEA can, if used inclusively, help provide a better education to every school child. They can bring personnel, training, and support into the classroom that will give each child more individual attention and more chances to learn. The increasing number of children identified as needing special education should be viewed not as a failure of special education, but as a warning about the inability of traditional classrooms to meet the needs of many children. There are lessons from the IDEA that can inform educational policy for all children. The commitment to an appropriate education is costly, but special education resources and expertise about how to meet the individual educational needs of children can be shared and put to work school-wide. There is still a need to continue to examine whether and why the collaborative ideals of the IDEA are not realized within our school systems as much as we want them to be and to attempt to assist school districts in complying with the spirit of the IDEA and not just its paperwork.

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