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In 1975 the Education for All Handicapped* Children Act (P.L.94-142) was created which mandated free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) were also mandated with special education and related services designed to meet the unique individual needs of each child. This was the most landmark special education law enacted up until this point since it was for all children and youth with disabilities.

Public Law 94-142 was basically a state grant program which contained specific requirements that the states had to follow in order to receive federal funds.

The major purposes of P.L. 94-142 were:

  • To guarantee that a "free appropriate education," including special education and related service programming, is available to all children and youth with disabilities who require it.
  • To ensure that the rights of children and youth with disabilities and their parents or guardians are protected (e.g., fairness, appropriateness, and due process in decision-making about providing special education and related services to children and youth with disabilities).
  • To assess and ensure the effectiveness of special education at all levels of government.
  • To financially assist the efforts of state and local governments in providing full educational opportunities to all children and youth with disabilities through the use of federal funds.

The companion legislation (the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act) also supported the least restrictive environment (LRE) principle. Children who were not currently receiving a public education were to get first priority in the use of federal funds by states. The regulations enacting P. L. 94-142 became effective in 1977. States were initially given until 1978 to implement the regulations but this was later extended to 1981.

One of the major impacts of P. L. 94-142 was to increasingly prevent the institutionalization of children. One provision of P. L. 94-142 required states to establish priorities for providing a free appropriate education to all children [with developmental disabilities]… first with respect to children who are not receiving an education, and second with respect to children, within each disability, with most significant disabilities, who are receiving an inadequate education…

Woman and a child interacting
Photo courtesy William Bronston, M.D.