Citing a pattern of failures, federal education officials are issuing new guidance pressuring states to improve their oversight of special education programs.

The 45-page document released this week by the U.S. Department of Education outlines steps that states should take to enhance their monitoring of IDEA and ensure compliance in school districts and early intervention programs.

Specifically, it indicates that states should monitor every school district and early intervention program at least once every six years and states “may not ignore credible allegations about potential noncompliance” even if they come outside of the regular visit cycle. In cases where a program is not compliant, states must issue such a finding in a timely manner, generally within three months, and they must ensure that the issue is corrected for each individual child, the guidance states.

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“While the federal government provides grants to states under IDEA, it is the state’s responsibility to educate students with disabilities in accordance with the law. This guidance underscores each state’s general supervision responsibility to meet the purpose of IDEA and ensure that all school-age children, regardless of the nature or severity of their disability, can access (a free appropriate public education) in the least restrictive environment and that infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families receive appropriate early intervention services to the maximum extent appropriate,” said Valerie C. Williams, director of the Education Department’s Office of Special Education Programs.

The guidance and an accompanying “Dear Colleague” letter address each state’s general supervision responsibilities, how to identify and correct noncompliance, annual performance reporting and determinations as well as enforcement options.

The Education Department said that it issued the guidance in response to “multiple requests from a diverse group of stakeholders for updated and consolidated guidance interpreting the general supervision requirements of states” under IDEA.

The information comes less than a month after the Education Department released its annual IDEA determination letters. The federal agency is required to evaluate each state’s performance under the law annually. For the 2021-2022 school year, just 22 states met requirements for providing special education to students with disabilities ages 3 to 21.

“OSEP has determined that many states have, over the past 15 years, not consistently met IDEA’s requirements. Further, in each of the years between 2014 and 2023, on average only seven Part B states and two Part C states have consistently received the ‘meets requirements’ determination,” Williams wrote in the “Dear Colleague” letter this week. “These data, along with OSEP’s other monitoring activities, indicate the need for improvement in state general supervision systems, to ensure their corresponding (school districts) and (early intervention service) programs and providers comply with the requirements of IDEA.”

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