As a profession, special education advocacy is fairly new. After all, IDEA has only existed since 1975. So, the cottage industry surrounding special education and IEPs came shortly thereafter.

One of the professions to emerge was that of a special education advocate, or IEP advocate. I have been a parent IEP advocate since 2010. Most of the advocates I know and work with are IEP parents themselves who grew into this position. The second most popular category is former teachers or related service providers looking for a ‘second act’ after retiring from their school district.

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If this is something you’re considering, you might be wondering what the salary is for a special education advocate. Hopefully I can give you some answers and maybe even recruit you to becoming a special education advocate.

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We certainly need more!

Where do Special Education Advocates Work?

First, let’s look at the possible employment options for special education advocates. Because it really has an impact on salary level, based on what I’ve seen and experienced.

Self employed IEP advocates: Most advocates I know are self employed or own their own small business (advocacy agency).

Agency Special Education Advocates: The second most common employment setting I see is the parent advocates who are hired by agencies. Most of the time these agencies are a non-profit or NGO connected to serving families of disabled people.

For Profit Agency Advocates: In 15 years, I have come across one or two law firms that hire special education advocates. This allows the law firm to have another stream of income and it can serve as a continuous feeder for clients. There are also some private OT or PT or SLP agencies who also employ special education parent advocates to assist their clients/parents with the process.

School Districts or State/County Advocates: In some states and school districts, there are positions for advocates but they are not usually called Special Education Advocates. They are usually referred to as Parent Partners or Parent Peers, or some type of parent buddy program. Quite often they differ a little bit from other advocates because their main focus is to educate you on the process, and maybe not do quite as much advocacy work. I hope that makes sense. And, no disrespect to the people out there fulfilling these roles. But, there is an inherent credibility problem with this type of educational advocacy work. Because are you really going to go against the place that provides you with a paycheck?

If you are reading that last paragraph and that is your category, you might be offended. I’m just saying what is the truth. Even if you’re thinking, “I never did that! I was always honest with my clients!” I’d reply with “good for you!” and I really mean that.

But there’s a reason you cannot join COPAA if you get paid by a state or school district.

The water is undeniably muddy. Whether you like that or not, whether you agree with it or not–it is something you will encounter if you choose to work as an advocate in that capacity.

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Special Education Advocate Salary

Ok, so let’s get to the information you want. How much can you make as a special education advocate?

By far, the highest salaries are those of the self-employed advocates. We can decide how much we are charging and control most of our overhead costs.

Here are some examples of what I’ve heard from other working education advocates.

  • Hourly rates, anywhere from $30 to $200 an hour
  • A monthly retainer fee, and I’ve heard $300 to $500 a month. There is even a rumor (though I really think it might be an urban legend) that there are advocates out there charging a $10,000 retainer.
  • When I worked for a non-profit agency, I started at $15 an hour and when I left I was making $20 an hour. After taxes and daycare I was barely breaking even.
  • I have known IEP advocates working for attorneys who made in the $25-$50 an hour range. The law firm charged the client twice that to cover overhead fees and leave a bit of profit.
  • I have heard of non-profits, school districts and other agencies paying anywhere from $1500 a month for part time work, to salaries up to $60k or more.
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Profitable Advocacy Work

It’s just the state of where we are in society today. Disabled people are still highly marginalized people, and the system is designed to keep them poor.

Disabled people, by design, do not have a lot of money. As such, professions that serve disabled people, by and large, are not “get rich” professions. IEP advocacy is one of them.

If you want to work as an advocate and make a lot of money, you’re going to have to specialize in something (such as a specific disability or situation), and target higher income families as clients.

Or, you’re going to have to own your own small business, and learn to scale it. That means hiring and managing lots of advocates and taking a small bit of what each of them earns.

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Do I have to work as a free special education advocate?

When I have participants who are taking my online training to become a special education advocate, one of the first questions they ask is, “Do I have to work for free to get started?”

No, you don’t have to do anything. You can begin charging fees on day 1 of your business.

I can make arguments for and against starting out as a free advocate. Sure, you have to get experience somewhere as an advocate. That may mean offering free services to friends and family.

But here’s the thing–I’ve found that it’s very difficult, as a small business person, to transition from free to paid advocacy work. Once word gets out in your community that you’re a “free advocate” people get miffed when you ask for payment.

My advice now is this. If you want to work for free to get experience, look into your local Special Education or IDEA Surrogate program. The IDEA surrogate program is one that provides kids who do not have parents “in the picture” to get an appointed educational decision maker for IEP meetings.

This is a provision defined in IDEA. I’ve been doing this for over 10 years. Most of the kids I have done this for are either wards of the state, have parents who are incarcerated or other similar situations.

This allows you to help a child who really needs it. You can get some experience. And, word isn’t spreading around your community that you’re the “free advocate” which can be difficult to recover from.

Two women sitting at a table in an office discussing salary expectations in special education.

Whatever path you choose, know that special education advocates are needed. Most of the ones I know have as many clients as they can handle, and the need is always growing. Good luck to you, and I hope to see you in my online training program for special education advocates. We will hold your hand your entire way through becoming an advocate for special education.

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