In 1997, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act amended the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. In 2004, IDEA was reauthorized as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act to distinguish between the 1997 Act and the 2004 reauthorization. Since its inception, the focus of IDEA has been to ensure all children, especially those with special needs, receive a free, appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible.

The Purpose of IDEA

IDEA provides regulation and support for public schools and parents struggling with the challenges of special-needs children. Specific definitions such as what constitutes a disability, specific procedures for developing individualized education plans, requirements for evaluating students for special education inclusion and remedies for parents whose children slip through the cracks are addressed. The overriding purpose is to ensure that all students, especially those with physical or cognitive disabilities, have access to tools, modifications, supports, and assistive technologies necessary to meet or improve educational goals.

Reauthorization of IDEA

The new incarnation of the IDEA was signed into law in 2004 and became effective in 2005. By reauthorizing IDEA and making improvements to its wording and scope, Congress provided for necessary changes brought about by research developments, changing populations, and community demographics. Just as the original Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 would no longer fully protect disabled students in accordance with modern medical and psychological standards, IDEA 1997 was becoming similarly outdated.

Similarities Between IDEA and IDEIA

Much of the original verbiage and regulations set forth in IDEA 1997 remain in IDEIA. Children with disabilities or suspected disabilities are still eligible for evaluation through the school system at no cost to the parent. Public school systems must still provide an IEP for students with disabilities when warranted. Certain forms, reporting documents, and other administrative duties remain the same. Parents' consent is still a primary focus with regard to IEP meetings, changes and educational interventions.

Differences Between IDEA and IDEIA

IDEIA clarified certain special education terms. IDEIA eliminated much of the paperwork burden and extended notification process teachers and school administration had to go through. Additional differences include allowances for non-English speaking students in need of additional English proficiencies as well as protection for parents from forced participation in educational interventions. Although specific changes to verbiage and rules are numerous, the bulk of the differences between IDEA 1997 and IDEIA rest in the view with which Congress takes on special education. Primarily, IDEIA encourages cooperation between parents and school systems by reducing restrictions that limit resolutions outside of formal meetings or hearings. It also highlights the need for non-English speaking students and other students with particular needs to retain eligibility for special education without needing learning disability labels.