A group of U.S. senators wants the federal government to fully fund special education for the first time ever and they’re proposing that higher cigarette taxes are the way to pay for it.
Under a bill introduced this week, the lawmakers hope to fulfill a commitment dating back to 1975 when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was enacted ensuring the right to a free and appropriate education for children with disabilities.
At that time, Congress committed to pay 40 percent of the cost of special education. But the federal government has never met its initial goal and today foots just 16.1 percent of the bill. States and school districts are left to pick up the rest of the tab.
That would change under the bill introduced this week by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. The legislation calls for the federal government to gradually pay more of the costs associated with IDEA, ultimately taking responsibility for the 40 percent share by 2021.
Harkin’s proposal, which is co-sponsored by 13 of his Democratic colleagues, suggests doubling the tax on cigarettes and small cigars to pay for the measure.
“Full funding of IDEA — at no additional cost to the federal government — will provide much-needed relief to already-strapped school districts and fulfill the promise we made 36 years ago to help communities provide a high-quality education to all students,” Harkin said.
This is not the first time that lawmakers have proposed increasing the federal contribution to IDEA and it’s unclear how much traction the bill will generate, especially as Congress continues to focus on trimming the nation’s debt burden. What’s more, there are currently no Republicans on board for the proposal.
A similar effort brought forth in 2009 by U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., failed to move forward.