IEP Laws and Regulations

Several years ago, I was at a fundraiser. It was for an agency that assists disabled people. So, naturally, they had a few people who used the agency speak and give testimonials about how much this agency means to them.

I will never forget the story that this one elderly woman told. She raised an intellectually disabled child in the 1950s and 60s. In Pennsylvania, you have to enroll your child in school by age 8.

But, since he was IDD, she was not enrolling him. However, she did not want to get arrested or anything for not enrolling him. So, she took him down to the local elementary school and met with the principal.

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IEP laws and regulations

She said to him, “I just want you to know that he’s 8, but I don’t want to get in trouble, I’m not enrolling him because you don’t have anything for him here.” And the principal said, “Yes, you’re right, we don’t. But you won’t get in trouble.”

And that was it. They went home. And the child never received an education. It was all perfectly legal, normal and acceptable for the times.

As they say in the old cigarette commercials, we’ve come a long way baby.

I’d argue that we haven’t come far enough. But I think it helps to have perspective and history on the laws and statutes that govern IDEA.

Are IEPs federally mandated?

Yes, they are. However, IDEA gives us the “what” of what an IEP process should look like.

Like many other federal laws, it’s left up to the states as to the “how” of how an IEP is implemented.

Confusing? For sure.

But a key point to keep in mind when reading IEP law is this: States can do more than what IDEA calls for, but they cannot do less than what IDEA regulations call for.

For example, in Pennsylvania, Intellectually Disabled students get a re-evaluation every 2 years. IDEA calls for a re-evaluation every 3 years. Every 2 years is more than what IDEA calls for. PA could say they will do them every 5 years, that is less.

Make sense?

IEP Laws for all 50 States

If you find a dead link or a mistake, please email me.

This spreadsheet was put together several years ago. I have found that many government websites change the URL of a resource, but fail to redirect it.

This is best viewed on a laptop or tablet, not a phone. Email us if you find a broken link, thanks.


Here are 8 interesting facts about IDEA law. It’s important to remember that the IDEA law is an administrative statute. It is not criminal law.

Schools can (and do!) violate IEP regulations all the time. However, these are not punishable criminal acts.

  1. IDEA stands for the Individual with Disabilities Education Act and was first passed in 1975. Prior to IDEA being passed, it was perfectly acceptable and common practice to keep your disabled children at home. Schools were able to refuse to allow them in. I mention this only for perspective because I was in kindergarten in 1975. So just one generation earlier, my son may have been turned away by his local neighborhood school. It’s very likely that I would have been encouraged to institutionalize him, but that’s another blog post for another day!
  2. It is to be revised or reauthorized as needed. So far that has happened in 1990 and 2004. Whether or not it gets redone is completely at the whim of our Congress and whether or not they make it a priority. In 2015, Congress passed ESSA, and that legislation then meshed with IDEA so that they would be compatible.
  3. When it gets reauthorized, the work first begins in the Senate HELP committee. HELP stands for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. If you have concerns, contact your Senator, especially if they are on the committee. The committee has several champions of people with disabilities on it. Including, Senator Casey from PA and Senator Hassan from NH, who has a son with CP.
  4. IDEA has never been fully funded. When it was passed, school administrators everywhere balked at the concept of the extra costs. So, Congress agreed that it would pay up to 40% of the cost to educate an IEP student. So far, that has never happened. And in fact, Federal dollars toward Special Education have never even surpassed 20% of the cost. I have a booklet from the National Council on Disability at the end of this post with more details.
  5. Each state also has its own set of Special Education Regulations. However, they cannot supersede the IDEA unless they favor the student.
  6. IDEA is an administrative statute. So yes, a law. However, not following an administrative statute is not the same as breaking a criminal law. It also means that your options for recourse, if the statutes are not followed, are less and not as ‘meaty.’ I only point this out because the word “illegal” gets used often in Special Ed, and is technically incorrect.
  7. IDEA has an interesting history. Two states-Pennsylvania and DC (not a state, I know) were influential in getting IDEA established.
    In the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC, 1971) v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania sided in favor of students with intellectual and learning disabilities in state-run institutions. PARC v. Penn called for students with disabilities to be placed in publicly funded school settings that met their individual educational needs, based on proper and thorough evaluation.
    In the Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia case (1971), the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia students classified as “exceptional” – including those with mental and learning disabilities and behavioral issues. This ruling made it unlawful for the D.C. Board of Education to deny these individuals access to publicly funded educational opportunities.
  8. In 1972, when Congress set out to determine the needs of handicapped children, they counted 8 million children who would likely qualify for Special Education. Of that 8 million, only about half were having their needs met (by local Arc agencies, Easter Seals, and the like). Almost 2 million were at home, receiving no education at all! According to data from 2014, today the national average is that 13% of all students have an IEP.

I’m a self-professed history nerd, so I love reading about how it all has developed. It also helps me with advocacy and lobbying efforts.

Here is the booklet I promised from National Council on Disability.

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