Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

For States Struggling To Keep Up, Cuts To Federal Special Education Funding Won't Be Permanent

    Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

    After receiving a certificate of completion from DeKalb High School, Tori Tackett says he decided to attend the CHOICE program to become more independent.

    States whose spending on special education drops below the prior year’s level will still get hit with financial penalties, writes Alyson Klein for Education Week, but a tweak to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act will make the reduction in federal support temporary:

    Under maintenance of effort—or MOE, in wonky Washingtonspeak—states can’t cut their own education spending below whatever amount they spent the previous year and still tap federal dollars for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, unless they get special permission from the department.

    Keeping up special education spending is usually not a problem for states, but it became an issue during the recent budget recession.

    The most prominent example by far? South Carolina, which has actually sued the Education Department in connection with this issue. The department withheld $36 million in special education funding from the Palmetto State last October. And that reduction was slated to stay in place permanently, until Congress and the administration intervened.

    The Obama administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the panel that oversees education spending, added a provision to the recent spending legislation clarifying that while states that are out of compliance with the law will still see their funding reduced, that cut won’t be in place in permanently. Instead, the reduction would just be for the year (or years) that the state was out of compliance and didn’t get a waiver. Once the problem had been fixed, the state could go back to its regular spending levels.

    State that remain in compliance with the special education funding law would get a one-time bonus, as they’d get to split any money withheld from the offending state, notes Klein.

    We’ve written before about the high cost of special education services. Mary Burton of the Northeast Indiana Special Education Cooperative told StateImpact in December that the assistive technology for just one student can cost upwards of $100,000 and can be out-of-date within a year or two.

    Schools have to provide any services outlined in a student’s Individualized Education Program, which is based on their specific disabilities. Many of the special education cooperatives that serve Indiana students are worried about paying for those services in the wake of automatic federal spending cuts.

    If you’re curious about how Indiana pays for students with disabilities, Scott Elliott’s look at special education at Arlington High School in this weekend’s Indianapolis Star is definitely worth a read.


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