The federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act, P. L. 94-142, was the result of nearly 4 years of intensive legislative development, culminating when President Gerald Ford affixed his signature to this historic legislation on November 29, 1975. After extensive hearings conducted by both chambers of the Congress, hearings held in Washington, D. C. , and around the nation, the Senate version of P. L. 94-142 (section 6) was approved on June 18, 1975, by a vote of 83 to 10. Congress justified the legislation on two major grounds: as an antidiscrimination measure, and as a long-term investment in the nation's economic health.
The goal was to make small educational investments early in the life of a child with disabilities that might lead him or her to become a self-sufficient, productive adult who would need fewer social services later on (Palmaffy, 2001). This Act required that all students with disabilities receive a free, appropriate public education and expanded the EHA's small financial commitment into a multibillion dollar program of grants to the states in order to help fund the excess cost of offering such programs. There are five purposes to P. L. 94-142: 1.
To assure that all children with disabilities have available to them... a "free appropriate public education," which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs; 2. 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); 3. To assist states and localities in providing for the education of all children with disabilities; 4.
To assess and assure the effectiveness of efforts to educate all children with disabilities; 5. 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. (USDE, 2007, p. 4) The statute established first priority children and second priority children to receive funds. First priority children means, "handicapped children who are eligible to receive a free appropriate public education and are not receiving any education"(§ 1401).
Second priority children means, "handicapped children, within each disability, with the most severe handicaps who are receiving an inadequate education"(§ 1401). The EHCA established federal financial incentives to states along with procedural safeguards for children with disabilities. EHCA's zero reject provision mandates that all students have the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), procedural due process, parental involvement, nondiscriminatory evaluation and testing, and placement in the least restrictive environment (LRE).
As defined in the EHCA the term free appropriate public education means special education and related services that "are provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge. Meet the standards of the state educational agency, including the requirements of this part. Include preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in the state involved"(1401(18)). The least restrictive environment (LRE) mandate requires that students with disabilities be educated with their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent possible. The LRE provision mandates that: