Federal Regulations, State Rules, State Laws? Which Is Which?

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The Process


All federal laws become federal statutes.  Federal statutes are organized, indexed and published in the United States Code, U.S.C.  To find a federal statute, you must know under what Title of the U.S.C. it is located.  For example, the IDEA is in Title 20, which is written as 20 U.S.C.

You can find all federal statutes in the Federal Register at: https://www.federalregister.gov/index/2016#E.


After a federal law, such as the IDEA, has been adopted, the next step is the development of federal regulations.  The intent of regulations is to clarify for the states the intentions of the law.   Because federal regulations must be put out for public comment before they can be adopted, there is a gap between the time the law is passed and when final regulations are adopted.  During that time, states must still follow the law, even though there may be some confusion about some of its requirements.

Federal regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations, often referred to as C.F.R.  You can find the regulations for IDEA at:http://www.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/finrule/2006-3/081406a.html


Once federal regulations are adopted, each state develops and adopts its own rules implementing new IDEA requirements.  State rules help school districts understand how to implement federal requirements.  In Texas, the rules governing special education are developed by both the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Commissioner of Education.  Currently, the majority of Texas’ special education rules are Commissioner’s Rules.

In Texas, the Texas Education Agency involves parents and other stakeholders in all stages of the rulemaking process.  Some organizations are invited to participate on a “stakeholders committee” to develop recommendations for rules.  Once rules are drafted and proposed, they are published in the Texas Register, where everyone is given a chance to give written comments.  If you are on the Rules Mailing List, you will be notified when there are opportunities to comment on proposed rules.

Both SBOE and Commissioner’s rules are part of a larger body of state agency rules that are collected and published as the Texas Administrative Code.  You can access the TAC at: http://texreg.sos.state.tx.us/public/readtac$ext.ViewTAC?tac_view=3&ti=19&pt=2


When a federal law such as the IDEA is passed, a state may have to make changes in some of its state laws to conform to new federal requirements.  In Texas, such changes would be made by the Texas Legislature.  You will find state laws governing education in the Texas Education Code, or TEC.  State laws can exceed federal requirements, but cannot conflict with them.

You can find the Texas Education Code at http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/?link=ED.