Implementation through Cooperative Federalism

Special education programs at the district level are structured upon a cooperative federalism model and therefore governed by both state and federal law. The Court explains:

    IDEA is frequently described as a model of cooperative federalism. Little Rock School Dist. v. Mauney, 183 F. 3d 816, 830. It leaves to the States the primary responsibility for developing and executing educational programs for handicapped children, [but] imposes significant requirements to be followed in the discharge of that responsibility. Board of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist., Westchester Cty. v. Rowley, 458 U. S. 176, 183. For example, the Act mandates cooperation and reporting between state and federal educational authorities. Participating States must certify to the Secretary of Education that they have policies and procedures that will effectively meet the Act’s conditions. State educational agencies, in turn, must ensure that local schools and teachers are meeting the State’s educational standards. Local educational agencies (school boards or other administrative bodies) can receive IDEA funds only if they certify to a state educational agency that they are acting in accordance with the State’s policies and procedures.

Disputes over the application of the law begin at the local school district and travel through an administrative law process that is subject to judicial review. Furthermore, aspects of special education law rest on evolving civil rights jurisprudence.