Federal Funding Sources for K-12 Special Education Programs

September 5, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has led the federal government to approve three stimulus bills to respond to the pandemic and boost the economy. These bills have generated an enormous influx of funding for the education sector, including for special education. There is money set aside specifically for students with disabilities and the main stimulus funding can be used for special education as well.

Understanding the different stimulus bills and what they mean for special education can be overwhelming or confusing. In addition to stimulus funding, there are also regular, non-stimulus appropriations available to support students with special needs. In this article, we’ll break down the different federal funding options for special education to help you understand what funds are available.

COVID-19 Stimulus Bills as a Source of Federal Funding for Special Education

The three federal COVID-19 stimulus bills each includes significant funding for education:

  • In March 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was passed, providing a total of $31 billion for education.
  • In December 2020, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Bill was passed, providing $82 billion dollars to education.
  • In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) was passed, providing $167 billion to education.

Within these three bills, there are two areas of special interest for the K-12 special education sector. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund is the biggest fund for K-12 education and can be used for a wide range of purposes, including addressing the needs of underserved student groups, such as students with special education needs. Each of the three stimulus bills has its own version of ESSER. ESSER III, which is part of the ARP, is the biggest of the three, and provides $123 billion for K-12 education.

Specifically for special education, there is an additional grant for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the ARP. As the name suggests, this money provides government funding for special education purposes. Through the ARP, there is $3 billion for IDEA.

You can read more about ESSER and IDEA funds, and how they pertain to special education in our article, “ESSER and IDEA Stimulus Funding for Special Education.”

Summary of COVID-19 Stimulus Funding for Education

Evergreen Sources of Funding for Special Education

In addition to these one-time stimulus funds, there are regular, annual fiscal year appropriations for education, including funding for special education specifically.

The Biden Administration has proposed significant increases to the federal education budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022. For example, the Administration has requested nearly $3 billion in additional funding to support special education and related services through IDEA. This would bring the regular appropriation for IDEA to over $17 billion per year.

You can see the full FY 2022 education budget request here. State tables for FY 2020-2022 are available here. Most of these funds are allocated to states or Local Education Agencies (LEAs) using formulas. There are additional funds awarded on a competitive basis. You can apply for a variety of education grants here, and for special education grants here.

Leveraging These Bills to Support Your Needs

Understanding the details of the three stimulus bills can help you take advantage of the unprecedented federal funding that has been made available to address learning loss, social-emotional learning, and mental health needs stemming from the pandemic. Understanding the regular education appropriation options that are available on top of the stimulus funding can help further support your special education programming.

For in-depth information about these federal funding options, you can read more in our article “ESSER and IDEA Stimulus Funding for Special Education.” You can also watch our on-demand webinar, “A Watershed Moment for Special Ed,” featuring various experts on special education, including Doug Mesecar, Former Ed Tech senior executive and U.S. Department of Education Deputy Chief of Staff.

In our article “A Framework for Identifying Programs & Interventions for Special Education,” we’ll explore a framework for assessing your needs and identifying the programs, tools, and methodologies that will yield the greatest benefits for your special needs students.