Protect the Rights of Students with Disabilities – The Need for an Education P&A Program

March 21, 2019
Protect the Rights of Students with Disabilities – The Need for an Education P&A Program

The Needs of Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities and their families face numerous obstacles at school, including, low expectations, inconsistent service delivery and disproportionate discipline practices which too often result in poor education outcomes for youth with disabilities thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty. For example, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), in 2013-2014 students with disabilities were twice as likely to be suspended as students without a disability and while students with disabilities make up 12% of the total student population, they represented 67% of students who were subjected to seclusion or restraint. Additionally, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), students with disabilities had a 65% graduation rate as opposed to an 82% graduation rate for all students.

These statistics are alarming and discouraging. Parents and guardians of children with disabilities have few resources to help them understand and navigate the complex education system, leaving many uninformed about their children’s rights.

What Is The Protection and Advocacy System?

The Protection and Advocacy (P&A) system is a nationwide network of congressionally mandated, cross-disability rights agencies operating in every state and territory in the United States. The P&A Network has the authority to provide legally based advocacy services and legal representation to all people with disabilities. P&As pursue legal, administrative, and other appropriate remedies under all applicable federal and state laws to protect and advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities. Collectively, these programs make the P&A Network the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.

The Work of the P&As in Education

Youth and students with disabilities are protected under a number of state and federal statutes and are served in a variety of settings. Because of the unique authority granted to the P&As, the P&As have access to schools, institutions, juvenile detention centers and other locales where students are served. In other words, P&As are “on the ground” and able to ensure that students rights are protected in all settings.

P&A advocates and attorneys work with families and schools to ensure students with disabilities receive the supports and services they are entitled to receive. The demand for assistance is high; in 2016 the P&As collectively worked on nearly 14,000 individual cases and hundreds of systemic cases.


To address this growing need from students with disabilities and their parents for advocacy to protect the student’s educational rights and ensure that they receive the services and supports the student needs to graduate from high school and transition to competitive, integrated employment or higher education, requires a dedicated source of funding and support for the P&A Network. This dedicated source of funding would allow each P&A system to have an absolute priority and dedicated staff focused solely on addressing the needs of students with disabilities and their families to achieve the highest level of educational outcome.

This is a cost-effective and efficient way to achieve positive outcomes for students with disabilities and their families. Because the P&A system already exists, new funding would be directed towards the hiring of advocates and staff to provide this needed advocacy rather than the establishment of a new administrative structure, computers or rent. Additionally, the work of the P&As, though early and effective advocacy will undoubtedly reduce the need for special education litigation.

The National Disability Rights Network calls upon Congress to create a dedicated source of funding and support for the nationwide Network of P&A systems to perform education related advocacy work. Such a program would eventually total $25 million per year.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Amanda Lowe, Senior Public Policy Analyst at [email protected] or at 202-408-9514, ext. 101.