Patrick Henry High School debater Sydney Lohse embraces her cousin and partner, Alena Johnson. Photo by Armand Hayes.

Patrick Henry High School debater Sydney with her cousin and partner, Alena. Photo by Armand Hayes.

Could increasing funding for students with disabilities be the key to economic growth, reducing the school to prison pipeline, and ending ableism?

Only half of the United States meet requirements for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Meanwhile, Congress plans to cut funding for IDEA, and many states and local governments will not make up for the budgetary shortfall. Minnesota debate coaches are inciting dialogue about this topic by including it in the novice debate packet. The packet includes three cases advocating for the US federal government to increase funding or regulation for education. In one case, students will advocate implementing this policy:

The US Federal Government should fully fund its commitment to cover 40% of special education costs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Rookie debater Sydney from Patrick Henry High School is passionate about this case because she has seen IDEA work successfully among her friends and classmates. “I was in fifth grade and I was just starting off the school year. This kid who actually turned out to be my friend – he was super nice and funny – was having a lot of trouble figuring out the math problems in class,” she says. “But the teacher was on the other side of the room. He gave up and threw his paper because no one would help him. After figuring out that he needs extra help in class with those kinds of things, they got someone to always be in the room with him whenever he needed help. The teacher got help too because he always got the help that he needed.” We’re always excited when debaters bring their personal experience to advocacy through debate!

Read more to learn about the arguments and evidence novices are using to advocate for increased special education funding!

Debaters will discuss the benefits of adopting this policy: increased economic growth, reducing the school to prison pipeline, and reducing ableism. Students explain why these outcomes are important to society, how this policy is essential to creating these outcomes in society, and how specifically the policy would accomplish them. The case raises thought-provoking questions about education:

Would fully funding IDEA create economic growth?

Students have evidence to show that providing funding for IDEA would create economic growth by improving the education of students with disabilities. Fully funding IDEA would help students meet more demanding standards, provide more materials and staff, and pay for a wide variety of necessary programs. Research shows that improving educational outcomes causes long-term economic growth. Economic growth can benefit standard of living in multiple ways, even with small levels of growth. Students also must address: is growth the most important priority? What negative impacts may come from economic growth?

Would fully funding IDEA reduce the school to prison pipeline?

Research shows many students at risk of incarceration have undiagnosed disabilities. Current lack of compliance to IDEA is causing students with disabilities to slip through the cracks and be truant, drop out, or misbehave. Funding IDEA would improve compliance, which would lead to reducing the school to prison pipeline. Service providers have enormous caseloads. Additional funding would increase compliance with regulations by allowing providers the ability to focus on individual students more closely. Compliance with IDEA helps the school to correctly identify students with disabilities before they end up incarcerated, and reduces exclusion from regular education classrooms. Students must also address questions, like: is the school to prison pipeline increasing or decreasing? In what way is school already like prison?

Would fully funding IDEA decrease society’s ableism?

Finally, students are discussing the ways that this policy could reduce ableism by increase inclusion of students with disabilities. A major barrier to inclusive education is funding for staff and training. Fully reforming the system is expensive, and full funding would be necessary to pay the price for inclusion. The cost would be low compared to the benefits for society: inclusion of students with disabilities will challenge ableism. Inclusion benefits both students with disabilities and non-disabled students by fostering respect and understanding. Students will debate the philosophical implications of ableism’s effects on society.


If you are interested in learning more about the issues raised by this policy case, check out these local resources:

Pacer Center – Champions for Children with Disabilities

Pacer Center Resources