The number of children and youth ages 3–21 receiving special education services was 6.5 million in 2009–10, or about 13 percent of all public school students. Some 38 percent of the students receiving special education services had specific learning disabilities.
Enacted in 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), formerly known as The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), mandates the provision of a free and appropriate public school education for children and youth ages 3–21 who have disabilities. Data collection activities to monitor compliance with IDEA began in 1976. From school years 1980–81 through 2004–05, the number of children and youth ages 3–21 who received special education services increased, as did their percentage of total public school students (see table A-9-1). The number and percentage of children and youth served under IDEA have declined each year from 2005–06 through 2009–10. In 1980–81, some 4.1 million children and youth ages 3–21 received special education services. The number of children and youth served under IDEA increased to 6.7 million in 2004–05, or about 14 percent of total public school enrollment. By 2009–10, the number of children and youth receiving services declined to 6.5 million, corresponding to about 13 percent of total public school enrollment. Generally, a greater percentage of children and youth ages 3–21 received special education services under IDEA for specific learning disabilities than for any other type of disability in school years between 1980–81 and 2009–10 (some data not shown). A specific learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. In 2009–10, some 38 percent of all children and youth receiving special education services had specific learning disabilities, 22 percent had speech or language impairments, and 11 percent had other health impairments. Students with disabilities such as intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbances, developmental delay, and autism each accounted for between 6 and 7 percent of children and youth served under IDEA. Children and youth with multiple disabilities; hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, and visual impairments; traumatic brain injury; and deaf-blindness each accounted for 2 percent or less of children served under IDEA.
About 95 percent of school-age children and youth ages 6–21 who were served under IDEA in school year 2009–10 were enrolled in regular schools (see table A-9-2). Some 3 percent of children and youth ages 6–21 who were served under IDEA were enrolled in separate schools (public or private) for students with disabilities; 1 percent were placed by their parents in regular private schools; and less than 1 percent each were in separate residential facilities (public and private), homebound or in hospitals, or in correctional facilities. Among all children and youth ages 6–21 who were enrolled in regular schools, the percentage of children and youth who spent most of their school day (more than 80 percent) in general classes was highest in 2009–10 (among school years since 1990–91, when the data were first compiled). For example, in 2009–10, some 59 percent of children and youth spent most of their school day in general class, compared to 33 percent in 1990–91 and 47 percent in 2000–01. In 2009–10, the percentage of students who spent most of their school day in general classes was highest for students with speech or language impairments (86 percent). Sixty-three percent each of students with specific learning disabilities and of students with visual impairments spent most of their school day in general classes. In contrast, 17 percent of students with intellectual disabilities and 13 percent of students with multiple disabilities spent most of their school day in general classes.
Special education services through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are available only for eligible children and youth. Eligible children and youth are those identified by a team of professionals as having a disability that adversely affects academic performance and as being in need of special education and related services. Intellectual disability includes the condition formerly known as mental retardation. Data include children and youth in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Bureau of Indian Education schools. For more information on the student disabilities presented, see Appendix C – Commonly Used Measures. For more information on the Common Core of Data (CCD), see Appendix B – Guide to Sources.
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