Special education funding change raises concerns

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A subtle change to special education funding rules could have big implications.

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Special education funding change

Under federal law, school districts are not allowed to reduce special education funding from one year to the next unless they receive a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education. This rule is known as the maintenance-of-effort rule, which is meant to shield special education funding from political and public spending trends.

Regularly, school districts are then required to raise their funding to their previous level prior to receiving a waiver. Until now.

In a letter sent June 16 to the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, the U.S. Department of Education stated that school district’s funding levels are only not allowed to decrease from their spending in the “immediate prior fiscal year,” according to an article in Education Week. Therefore, school districts that receive a waiver can use their new spending levels as their starting point when negotiating their funding levels with the U.S. Department of Education the next year.

The change could affect a significant number of school district nationwide. Amid the recession, seven states in recent years have requested waivers for decreased special education funding. The American Association of School Administrators estimates that as many as 10 percent of the nation’s school districts will not be able to maintain special education funding levels this year, according to the article.

For other special education advocates, the change may be illegal under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act.

“This is illogical and is not consistent with the language of the statute. This is not a matter of interpretation, but a misreading or misapplication of the law,” said Kathleen B. Boundy, a co-director of the Center for Law and Education, in a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Education last month. “School districts are required to maintain the level of special education expenditures from year to year based on a notion that costs rarely decrease, the population of eligible children is predictable, and Congress in granting … funds for the education of children with disabilities mandated that these federal dollars were being used to pay for the excess costs of educating this vulnerable population of children, not as a substitute for local and state funding for the education of these children.”