What Makes a Difference?

Schools need funding to help students with disabilities thrive.

Topics: Advocacy and Legislation, Principal Leadership, Special Education

Elementary and middle-level principals strive toward a well-rounded, complete education for every student in their care. This includes the 7 million students with disabilities who receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These students are entitled to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.

But principals who are on the front lines of ensuring students get the education they deserve are often hard-pressed to find the needed resources to facilitate the successful inclusion of students with disabilities. So while emerging research is identifying the most promising educational strategies, schools don’t always have the appropriate financial resources, professional learning, and support services to make a difference.

What would make a difference? NAESP believes IDEA must be fully funded to meet the needs of all students with disabilities. IDEA legislation promised a federal contribution to fund 40 percent of the extra cost to educate students with disabilities, but IDEA is currently funded at about 14 percent. This funding is crucial not only for students with disabilities, but for all students.

According to a National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) policy brief advocating full funding for IDEA, “Our schools cannot thrive until students with disabilities succeed.” That’s because without full funding, the extra costs to educate students with disabilities fall to the district, and funding for other critical education programs gets squeezed.

Principal Leadership

In addition to a fully funded IDEA that ensures access to resources, school leaders need strong preparation and ongoing, job-embedded professional learning to bolster essential competencies such as those described in Promoting Principal Leadership for the Success of Students With Disabilities, a supplemental guide to the 2015 Professional Standards for Education Leaders (PSEL).

In addition to PSEL standards, principals can look to resources such as NAESP’s Leading Learning Communities: Pillars, Practices, and Priorities for Effective Principals and Forward Together: School Leader’s Guide to Creating Inclusive Schools, developed by NCLD and Understood, for further guidance on creating an inclusive culture in which all students thrive.

L. Earl Franks, Ed.D., CAE, is executive director of NAESP.

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