These days–at first glance–it seems like our society has finally come around in regard to awareness towards children with special needs. Public awareness of various disabilities—autism and Asperger syndrome are two salient success cases—has risen sharply in the last few years, as conditions formerly cocooned in shame and misunderstanding are now being fought head-on, through countless benefit events and pledge drives.
Nevertheless, in reflection of the well-nigh criminal underfunding of our school systems, special needs kids often find themselves underserved. What makes this situation all the more tragic is that a veritable mother lode of various monies that go untapped each year. Here’s a quick look at special needs funding and how to get it.
Special Needs Funding: The Lowdown
Although funding for special education is a many-sided story, it’s not so byzantine that the average parents can’t wrap their heads around it. Unfortunately, much of the fine print goes tragically misunderstood. A lot of parents are under the false impression that it’s largely—or even entirely—the bailiwick of the state and federal governments to allocate monies for special education. In reality, a free appropriate education, or FAPE, has been mandated for special needs individuals by the federal government, but the bursary process takes place almost entirely at the local district level.
Back in 1975, the federal government passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, a legislative measure that was subsequently modified into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. Under the parameters of IDEA, it falls upon the state to secure services for special needs children as a precondition for school systems to receive any federal funding.
The fed acts as guarantor for three different special ed funding grants under the auspices of IDEA, the most significant of which is called IDEA Part B, a program that targets students in the K-12 range. It’s important to point out that under special education law, students are granted very specific basic rights and privileges, so those seeking grant monies would do well to secure the services of a lawyer to make sure that no legal stone is left unturned.
Beyond the Baseline
While on paper the directives of IDEA would seem to cover the needs of all special ed kids, the reality is that states are only coughing up a mere 15% of the funds promised in the language of IDEA’s legislation. What’s more, the true cost of special education can surpass the rather conservative allowances made by official channels. For example, an individual with autism may pay as much as $2.4 million over the course of a lifetime, according to a paradigm-shifting study published by JAMA Pediatrics.
Unfortunately, there really is no conveniently located central clearinghouse with which to track down external grant opportunities, although there are a few reliable databases to turn to. The best way to seek money is to be as specific as possible in researching the student’s circumstances and disabilities. Often times, hiring a special needs advocate to help find opportunities for your child with special needs is the best approach, Some monies are available only for residents of particular states, while others target special needs children who may face challenges presented by certain minority statuses. On the one hand, a slew of grants may be earmarked for ADHD children specifically, while elsewhere there may be grants that are written exclusively to meet the transportation needs of all special needs cases. Elsewhere, certain corporations kick off programs that supply special needs programs with particular pieces of equipment, such as free iPads.
The final secret of finding grants is to be thorough, persistent, and punctual. If you look hard enough, the internet generally will provide ample leads with which to secure funding, but in many cases the money flows out according to meticulous schedules tied to reams of paperwork. Be prepared to do a lot of thankless virtual footwork—but given the payoff, it should be work borne lightly.