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Murray, Scott Release New GAO Report Showing Significant Income, Racial Barriers to Accessing Rights for Students with Disabilities

Release of data reveals low-income students, student of color face significant barriers to accessing rights under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act


Washington, D.C – Senator Patty Murray, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03), chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released today reveals the dramatic effect of income and race on access to legal protections for students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The report, which collected new data on dispute resolution under IDEA—a process that provides parents with the opportunity to raise due process complaints with their child’s education—found that parents of low-income students and students of color are far less likely to access their legal rights than parents of white students and wealthy students.


“Every student with a disability has the right to the resources and services they need to receive an equal education, regardless of race and income—and every parent wants to stand up for her child’s education and rights. This data shows that we need to look carefully at what’s preventing parents who are low income or of color from using resources that exist to help parents advocate for their kids, and then fix those problems,” said Senator Murray.   


“The GAO’s report is a wake-up call to school districts, states, advocates, and policymakers. The data clearly show that the civil rights protections provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are not equally accessible to all students,” said Chairman Scott. “I hope this report starts an important and overdue conversation about how all of us can work together to address the barriers that are preventing many students and families from advocating for the education that they are entitled to receive under federal law.”


Under IDEA, states are required to ensure all children with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education tailored to each child’s individual needs. Due to disagreements that may arise between parents and schools regarding the structure of this education, IDEA provides parents various means to address these concerns. The GAO report examined how parents in various school districts rely on IDEA dispute resolution options—including mediation, hearings, and written complaints—to remedy concerns with their children’s education.


It concluded that families in wealthy districts are significantly more likely to file a dispute than those in low-income districts. It also found that schools with mostly white students are more likely to have dispute resolution activity than schools that predominantly serve students of color.


The report cited several different barriers that account for the disparity in dispute resolution activity, including cultural differences between families and schools, fear of retaliation, language barriers, and inconsistent access to information about students’ rights.


A full version of the report is available here.


A fact sheet of the report is available here.