Murray, Scott Applaud Final Rule to Address Widespread Inequality in Special Education for Students of Color with Disabilities

WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, issued the following statements applauding the Department of Education’s final rule to address widespread disparities in special education and disciplinary action faced by students of color with disabilities. The final rule, also known as the “disproportionality rule”, will help set a common standard for identifying overrepresentation of students of color with disabilities in special education, address inappropriate disciplinary action against these students, and clarify that states and school districts must help address these inequalities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).


Every child deserves access to a high-quality public education, no matter how they learn or where they are from,” Senator Patty Murray said. “I am very pleased that after thorough input from advocates and families, the Department has finalized these strong steps to address the pattern of overrepresentation of students of color in special education. This final rule will help ensure states and schools are working under clear standards to address these inequalities and that they have the resources needed to better serve and educate students of color with disabilities under IDEA. I will push the incoming Department to implement this critical rule.”


“I commend Secretary King for listening to parents, educators, administrators, and community leaders to put forth a final rule that will address pervasive disparities in the treatment of students of color with disabilities,” stated Representative Scott. “Despite protections in the IDEA, research shows that children of color continue to be disproportionately identified, placed into special education and subject to disciplinary action. Unfortunately, many states and districts are not faithfully implementing the IDEA’s requirements, leaving congressional intent to increase educational equity unfulfilled. This rule provides states and school districts with the clarity and direction needed to implement the law to better serve all students. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and the incoming Administration to ensure that this important work to protect the civil rights of all students continues.” 


Further Background

African-American and American Indian/Alaska Native students are more likely than their peers to be in special education classes, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. In 2013, GAO found that over-representation in special education, “may be a consequence of several factors such as poverty, factors within the school environment, such as cultural bias, or some combination of these elements.” Students in special education classes are more likely to be suspended and expelled from school, and researchers have found that these punishment tactics can feed the “school to prison pipeline,” which takes students out of the classroom and into the juvenile justice system.


First enacted in 1975, IDEA is the federal law that supports the unique educational needs of students with disabilities. To address the persistent problem of certain racial and ethnic groups being over- and under-represented in special education, in the last reauthorizations of IDEA in 1997 and 2004, Congress required states to annually report to the U.S. Department of Education significant disproportionality of racial and ethnic groups in special education based on disciplinary practices, identification for special education, and placement in particular educational settings. Congress also required states to review and revise policies, practices, and procedures for identifying school districts with significant disproportionality.


Under IDEA, a school district with significant disproportionality is required to reserve 15 percent of its IDEA Part B funds for comprehensive early intervening services, such as professional development for teachers and other school staff, multi-tier system of supports, or educational and behavioral evaluations, services, and supports. However, GAO’s performance audit found “the discretion that states have in defining significant disproportionality has resulted in a wide range of definitions that provides no assurance that the problem is being appropriately identified across the nation,” and recommended “the Secretary of Education develop a standard approach for defining significant disproportionality to be used by all states.”



Press Contact

Kiara pesante (Scott)

(202) 226-0853

Helen Hare (Murray)

(202) 224-5398