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AFSCME Supports IDEA Full Funding Act

The IDEA Full Funding Act would ensure that every child with a disability has sufficient access to educational opportunities.
Pictured: Claudine Wilkins-Chambers. Member-provided photo.
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By Pete Levine ·

AFSCME members touch the lives of students in countless ways. They get them to school safely, brighten their classrooms and schools, and even prepare them nourishing meals while away from home. Among the students AFSCME members work with, those with disabilities hold a special place in their hearts.

That’s why AFSCME applauds the IDEA Full Funding Act, which was introduced as two bipartisan bills in the House and Senate last week. These bills would help fulfill a commitment Congress made in 1975 when it passed the original IDEA Act, whose goal was to fund the education of students with disabilities so they could reach their fullest potential.

Originally, the federal government had promised to fund 40 percent of the cost for each student with disability, with states shouldering the rest. In other words, for every dollar it cost to educate a student with a disability, the federal government would cover 40 cents.

That promise was never kept. Currently, the federal government is paying less than 15 percent per student, which shortchanges students, educators and requires states to divert funds from other vital areas.

The bills introduced last week would hold Congress to its original commitment, providing an increase of $2.672 billion for a total of roughly $14 billion towards the IDEA Act.

In a statement, AFSCME President Lee Saunders said, “All students deserve access to a free, safe, nurturing and quality learning environment. Students with disabilities are no exception. We support the introduction of the IDEA Full Funding Act to ensure that the federal promise made to students with disabilities nearly 50 years ago is kept.” 

Members like Claudine Wilkins-Chambers, a paraprofessional from New Haven, Connecticut, and president of Local 3429 (Council 4), have a profound effect on the lives of students.

 “I’ve been a paraprofessional for 43 years,” said Wilkins-Chambers, who works in a first-grade classroom.

She recounted a recent success with a child who struggled to learn how to read.

“She didn’t read at all. By the middle of May, she read a whole book. I stood there, I hugged that little girl, and I actually cried,” Wilkins-Chambers said. “I was determined to help her read and help her succeed.”

Wilkins-Chambers knows firsthand how important funding for students with disabilities is.

“We only have one special education teacher for Pre-K through third grade. She’s overloaded, because we are getting more and more children who have special learning needs. It’s so unfair to the students,” she said.

A coalition of education organizations issued a letter that AFSCME co-signed, characterizing the IDEA Full Funding Act as, “an investment in our nation’s students and their future. It

indicates that Congress is serious in keeping its word to help school districts support all students.”

We urge Congress to pass the IDEA Full Funding Act immediately.

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