National education data: More students with disabilities served over past decade in public schools

By: - June 21, 2022 3:45 pm

Teacher with students, in a classroom. Credit: Getty Images.

The percentage of public school students with disabilities has increased over the past decade, with children, teens and young adults getting help through a wide variety of programs, new federal data finds.

In a report called Condition of Education 2022, data from the U.S. Department of Education found that in the 2020-21 school year, 7.2 million students with disabilities were served under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.

The data point is based on preliminary enrollment data, the report says, but that’s about 15 percent of all 49.4 million public school students in 2020-21.

Compare that to the 2009-10 school year, when 6.5 million public students were served by IDEA, about 13 percent, according to the report.

The federal law, first established in 1975, guarantees a free and appropriate public school education for disabled students who qualify and need additional supports in school.

In addition, the report shows the percentage distribution of students served under IDEA by disability type for the 2020-21 school year, with categories that cover a wide breadth of disabilities.

For example, the category with the highest percentage is “specific learning disability.” Of the 7.2 million students with disabilities in 2020-21, 33 percent of students served under IDEA. A decade earlier, in 2009-10, the figure was 38 percent.

According to the report, a specific learning disability means disorders in “the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect abilities to listen, think, speak, write, spell or do mathematical calculations.”

This includes disorders such as dyslexia and brain injury, among others, according to federal IDEA statute.

According to report, the category with the second highest percentage is speech or language impairment, accounting for 19 percent of students served under IDEA under this category. This would include stuttering, impaired articulation, and language impairments. That compares to 22 percent in 2009-10.

Then, 15 percent of students served under IDEA are counted under “other health impairment,” which refers to health concerns such as “limited strength, vitality or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems,” the report says. Examples in this category includes heart conditions, asthma, sickle cell anemia, epilepsy, leukemia, or diabetes. That compares to 11 percent in 2009-10.

In the 2020-21 school year, 12 percent of students served under IDEA had autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder, the report shows.

The remaining categories of students served under IDEA goes as follows: developmental delay (7 percent); intellectual disability (6 percent), emotional disturbance (5 percent), those with multiple disabilities (2 percent) and hearing impairments (1 percent.)

The data did not show certain disabilities such as “visual impairment” and “orthopedic impairment” because these categories each accounted for less than 0.5 percent of students served under IDEA, the report says.

Some background on the report:

The National Center for Education Statistics released The Condition of Education 2022 earlier in June to capture what’s going in the United States’ education system through a variety of statistics and analyses. The education data comes from federal sources such as the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Census Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as international data collections.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.