Both Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans can offer formal help for K–12 students with learning and attention issues. They’re similar in some ways but quite different in others. This chart compares them side-by-side to help you understand the differences.
|Basic Description||A blueprint or plan for a child’s special education experience at school.||A blueprint or plan for how a child will have access to learning at school.|
|What It Does||Provides individualized special education and related services to meet the unique needs of the child.
These services are provided at no cost to parents.
|Provides services and changes to the learning environment to meet the needs of the child as adequately as other students.
As with IEPs, a 504 plan is provided at no cost to parents.
|What Law Applies||The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
This is a federal special education law for children with disabilities.
|Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
This is a federal civil rights law to stop discrimination against people with disabilities.
|Who Is Eligible||To get an IEP, there are two requirements:
||To get a 504 plan, there are two requirements:
|Independent Educational Evaluation||Parents can ask the school district to pay for an independent educational evaluation (IEE) by an outside expert. The district doesn’t have to agree.
Parents can always pay for an outside evaluation themselves, but the district may not give it much weight.
|Doesn’t allow parents to ask for an IEE. As with an IEP evaluation, parents can always pay for an outside evaluation themselves.|
|Who Creates the Program/Plan||There are strict legal requirements about who participates. An IEP is created by an IEP team that must include:
With a few exceptions, the entire team must be present for IEP meetings.
|The rules about who’s on the 504 team are less specific than they are for an IEP.
A 504 plan is created by a team of people who are familiar with the child and who understand the evaluation data and special services options. This might include:
|What’s in the Program/Plan||The IEP sets learning goals for a child and describes the services the school will give her. It’s a written document.
Here are some of the most important things the IEP must include:
|There is no standard 504 plan. Unlike an IEP, a 504 plan doesn’t have to be a written document.
A 504 plan generally includes the following:
|Parent Notice||When the school wants to change a child’s services or placement, it has to tell parents in writing before the change. This is called prior written notice. Notice is also required for any IEP meetings and evaluations.
Parents also have “stay put” rights to keep services in place while there’s a dispute.
|The school must notify parents about evaluation or a “significant change” in placement. Notice doesn’t have to be in writing, but most schools do so anyway.|
|Parent Consent||A parent must consent in writing for the school to evaluate a child. Parents must also consent in writing before the school can provide services in an IEP.||A parent’s consent is required for the school district to evaluate a child.|
|How Often It’s Reviewed and Revised||The IEP team must review the IEP at least once a year.
The student must be reevaluated every three years to determine whether services are still needed.
|The rules vary by state. Generally, a 504 plan is reviewed each year and a reevaluation is done every three years or when needed.|
|How to Resolve Disputes||IDEA gives parents several specific ways to resolve disputes (usually in this order):
||Section 504 gives parents several options for resolving disagreements with the school:
|Funding/Costs||Students receive these services at no charge.
States receive additional funding for eligible students.
|Students receive these services at no charge.
States do not receive extra funding for eligible students. But the federal government can take funding away from programs (including schools) that don’t comply.
IDEA funds can’t be used to serve students with 504 plans.