DOE backs off proposed change to “maintenance of effort” rule

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The U.S. Department of Education has decided it will not implement a proposed change to how school districts fund special education, following an outcry from special education advocates since the plan was released last summer, according to an article in Education Week.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the nation’s premier special education law, school districts are barred from reducing special education funding from one year to the next without a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education. This rule, known as the maintenance-of-effort rule, is meant to shield special education funding from the ups and downs of public spending levels.

In a letter sent last June to the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, the Education Department stated that school districts receiving a waiver would only have to resume spending to the level of the year they received the waiver, not their previously higher spending level. Worried that school districts would take advantage of the obtaining waivers amid the persistently struggling economy, special advocates strongly pushed back.

In a response to a previous letter challenging the proposal by Kathleen B. Boundy, a co-director of the Center for Law and Education, the Department of Education reversed April 4.

“After further review, we have determined that the level of effort that a [school district] must meet in the year after it fails to maintain effort is the level of effort that it should have met in the prior year, and not the [district’s] actual expenditures. We are, therefore, withdrawing the letter,” wrote Alexa Posny, the assistant secretary for the office of special education, and Melody Musgrove, director of the office of special education programs, in a letter.

Special education advocates are thrilled with the decision.

“We are thrilled with this reversal. It is a tribute to all of the parents, advocates, and attorneys who worked to communicate to [the office of special education programs] and Congress about the inaccuracy of this guidance,” said Candace Cortiella, who is the director of the Advocacy Institute and runs IDEA Money Watch, which tracks special education spending under the federal law.