Federal education officials want states to take action to ensure that minority students aren’t overrepresented in special education.

The U.S. Department of Education said new figures show that disparities persist in the nation’s schools, with minority students in many districts far more likely to be identified as having disabilities and more frequently facing suspensions and other discipline.

However, despite requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to flag such issues, they often go unnoticed.

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“We have a moral and a civil rights obligation to ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed regardless of background or whether the student has a disability,” said Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King. “But the data we see make it very clear that we as a country are not living up to the intent of the law.”

Now, the agency is looking to change that trend with a proposed rule that would require states to use a standardized approach to assess representation in special education across racial and ethnic groups.

In cases where school districts have a “significant disproportionality,” the rule would allow more flexibility in how they use funding allocated under IDEA.

Currently, districts with disparities must use 15 percent of their IDEA funds for early intervening services for students who are not yet identified as having disabilities beginning in kindergarten. But, under the proposal, schools could use that money to serve kids with and without disabilities starting in preschool.

“This effort is not about reducing the number of children who are identified as having a disability. It’s a matter of making sure the right services are getting to the right children in the right way and making certain students’ needs are properly addressed,” King said.

The proposed rule will be up for public comment before being finalized.