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The Dilemma of Entitlement vs. Eligibility

By Marjorie Shulbank, Maryland State Department of Education

There is a vast difference between the entitlement to and eligibility for services for persons with disabilities. It is important for students who are transitioning from school to the adult world and their families to understand these differences.

In Maryland, students receiving special education services are entitled to receive these services until they complete the school year when they turn 21, OR have met the requirements of a Maryland high school diploma. The law requires that students identified as needing special education services must be provided a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), as defined in the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Once students are no longer receiving FAPE, they are no longer entitled to services.

When an individual with a disability applies for services or funding from an adult service agency, he/she will need to provide documentation to prove he/she meets the eligibility requirements of that particular agency. If the individual meets the requirements for that agency, he/she is then eligible or qualified, but not entitled, to the services. Unfortunately, being eligible doesn’t always mean that services will be provided. The individual will receive the services IF there is enough staff, capacity at the facility, and funds to provide the service. A person may be qualified for services from an agency/provider, but not receive the service because of staffing, capacity or funding shortfalls.

It is important to identify anticipated services for each student, starting at age 14, as part of the transition process from school to the adult world. The IEP team needs to consider which agencies/providers should be involved in the transition planning for each student, so that linkages can be put in place prior to the student exiting the entitlement services of the school system.

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