Public schools and some private schools operate special education programs for students who are physically or developmentally disabled and students who have emotional, behavioral or learning disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that states provide free and appropriate education and services to children with special educational needs. Federal and state funds help schools provide special education programs; however, grants can provide the extra funds needed to meet the day-to-day needs of the students and ensure that they are not denied opportunities because of their special needs.

Assistive Technology

Special education students use assistive technology to communicate, improve social skills, develop gross and fine motor skills and encourage independence and self-confidence. Assistive devices include computers and software, toys, audiovisual technology, communication devices, wheelchairs and switches used by young children to activate toys and other technologies. Some students are eligible for financial assistance under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, but schools can use grants to purchase additional or newly developed assistive technology.

Field Trips

Some special education students have transportation needs that might make field trips more difficult or more costly. Disabled students might need a special van to visit a museum. The additional adult escorts required for a group of children with behavioral problems might increase the cost of a field trip. Small grants help schools afford the special arrangement and include all students. For instance, the Philanthropic Ventures Foundation offers mini-grants to help public schools in some California counties provide field trips for K-to-12 special education students.

Professional Development

Teachers of special education students participate in ongoing training and development to develop and reinforce skills and knowledge. Training and education programs may focus on working with behaviorally challenged children or how to modify curricula to meet the needs of individual students. Many school districts require certification for special education teachers. Grants can help schools and individual teachers pay the costs of professional development and certification, or help districts launch larger initiatives. An example is the grant awarded to support Massachusetts’ FOCUS Academy, an online training and leadership institute whose courses provide teachers with the skills needed to work with special education students.


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides federal funds to states for special education programs. States use the funds to provide grants to local schools and districts. While some of the funds are distributed through the use of a formula, some of the funds are available for discretionary grant-making. For instance, Illinois school districts and other eligible organizations may apply for the state's Individuals with Disabilities Education Act discretionary funds to support administrative expenses and costs related to the provision of additional services to special education students, such as development of an assessment system.