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Feds Ease Special Education Funding Rules


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U.S. Department of Education officials appear to be making it easier for school districts to limit spending on special education.

Under federal law, districts are required to spend at least as much each year on educating students with disabilities as they did the prior year under a provision known as “maintenance of effort.” If they fail to meet this requirement without obtaining federal approval, then districts risk losing out on future funding from Washington.

Traditionally, it was understood that if school districts lowered their spending for a given year, they would be expected to return to the higher spending level in order to meet their maintenance of effort requirement for the following year. But that no longer seems to be the case.

In a letter sent in June, Melody Musgrove, director of the Office of Special Education Programs at the Education Department, indicated that school districts are only obligated to meet their spending level for the previous year, regardless of whether or not they satisfied the maintenance of effort requirement at that time.

“Each year’s (school district) maintenance of effort obligation is based on the actual amount expended in the immediate prior fiscal year,” Musgrove wrote in the letter to the head of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, which was first reported by Education Week.

The shift could make a big difference. In recent years seven states requested federal approval to lower special education spending as the recession took its toll. Five of the states were granted waivers, while others made cuts without receiving permission.

Given Musgrove’s guidance, these states likely will not be required to return to previous funding levels in the future.

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Comments (4 Responses)

  1. SusanFordKeller says:

    Can any lawyers weigh in on these actions by Director Musgrove? Is what she is doing legal? If it is not legal, what can parents and friends of kids with disabilities do?

  2. disabilitiesrightsadvocate says:

    I am certainly not a legal professional, but I am in fact a very passionate Disabilities Rights Advocate and what they are doing is outrageous! Current delivery and financial measures regarding special education are already insufficient to meet the needs of students, which is like saying that these students don’t matter or are less important than “regular” students. School districts typically spend more money on sports uniforms and equipment than they do on ensuring that they are turning out students who will become productive members of society.

  3. vmgillen says:

    Scary, scary stuff. At the same time, HOW LOVELY IT WOULD BE if the need for services actually is decreasing! -doubtful, expecially considering any decline in absolute numbers would be more than offset by increased cost of services… what is needed is a mechanism that allows schools to secure needed funds as funds are needed, rather than a use-it-or-lose it standard.

  4. IDEA money watch says:

    The Center for Law and Education has sent a letter to Musgrove stating that OSEP’s guidance on this issue. The letter along with an action alert available here:

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