GAO Report: Inadequate Federal Oversight, Inconsistent State Policies and Practices Are to Blame for Failure to Identify Children with Disabilities

Wide disparities in state practices combined with poor oversight from the Department of Education is allowing thousands of children with disabilities to fall through the cracks

WASHINGTON – A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released today reveals that inconsistent state policies and inadequate federal oversight are denying thousands of young people with disabilities the services and support required under federal law. The report, which was requested by Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03), chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, examined the wide disparities in special education enrollment rates in states across the country. 

Despite research suggesting that the percentage of children identified with disabilities is roughly constant throughout the country and has remained steady for several years, the percentage of children aged 6 through 21 receiving special education services in individual states ranged from 6.4 percent in to 15.1 percent in 2016. Specifically, the report examines “Child Find” policies—state-level procedures put in place to ensure all children with disabilities are provided with any necessary special education, as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The report concludes that not only do states face challenges in the identification process of children with disabilities, but that the Department is failing to conduct proper oversight of these state practices. Instead of examining the effectiveness of state practices in accurately identifying children, infants, and toddlers, the Department is only reviewing whether states are completing those practices on time.

“The GAO’s report reveals how the combination of inconsistent state policies and inadequate federal oversight continues to allow thousands of young people with disabilities to fall through the cracks.  Early and accurate identification and evidence-based interventions can make a huge difference in the lives of children, families, and communities across the country,” said Chairman Bobby Scott. The Department of Education must hold states accountable for complying with federal law, so that all children, infants, and toddlers with disabilities are getting the services and support they need to receive a meaningful educational benefit, so that they can reach their full potential.”

“This report shows there’s a lot of work left to do to make sure we are connecting children across the country who have a disability to the resources that can help them learn, grow, and succeed. The Department of Education needs to do more to hold states’ feet to the fire to uphold the law and provide guidance to effectively identify children and families in need to prevent scattershot approaches from leaving some without educational services and supports,” said Senator Murray. “I’m going to keep up the pressure on Secretary DeVos and the Department of Education to give this issue the oversight it deserves and make sure every state is taking proper steps to help students with disabilities get the support they need.”

A fact sheet for the report is available here.

A full version of the report is available here.


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