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As Cuts To Special Education Loom, Congress Takes Break


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Within days, severe budget cuts are slated to hit nearly every federal program — including special education and other disability supports — and there’s no sign of a deal on the horizon.

The sweeping automatic spending cuts will take effect March 1 unless Congress acts. For people with disabilities, the across-the-board reductions are expected to touch everything from employment assistance to housing programs, education, mental health initiatives and research dollars.

The funding chop is coming under a process known as sequestration, which was triggered in 2011 after Congress failed to reach a budget deal. The cuts were designed to be so dire that neither political party would want them to go through and the two sides would be forced to reach a deal. So far, however, that has not happened. Lawmakers already delayed the cuts once when they were were originally scheduled to take effect in January, but now hopes are dimming that another deal with be struck to avert the reductions.

“I’m growing increasingly pessimistic that we will be able to avoid sequestration, at least before the March 1 deadline,” said Lindsay Jones, senior director for policy and advocacy at the Council for Exceptional Children, which lobbies on behalf of special educators. “The two sides just seem incredibly far apart.”

A proposal to avert the sequester late last week from Democrats did not gain much traction and now Congress is away from Washington this week following the Presidents Day holiday, with no serious talk of a deal.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama again implored lawmakers to act saying that the automatic approach of the spending cuts is “not smart,” “not fair” and that it will “hurt our economy.”

But Republicans seemed unswayed.

“Once again, the president offered no credible plan that can pass Congress — only more calls for higher taxes,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement in response.

If sequestration does take effect, housing assistance provided to about 125,000 Americans — including those with disabilities — would be at risk, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan told senators last week.

Meanwhile, $160 million would likely be cut from vocational rehabilitation leading to longer wait times for employment support services and larger caseloads, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testified at the same Senate hearing.

Federal funding for special education programs may be chopped by nearly $600 million, Duncan said, putting the jobs of 7,200 teachers, aides and other staff supporting students with disabilities in question.

Though most schools would not be immediately impacted since funding for this academic year has largely been dispersed already, the timing is critical, said Jones from the Council for Exceptional Children. That’s because schools are currently planning their budgets for next year and may be forced to make decisions about layoffs, scheduling and program funding that could not be undone even if sequestration goes into effect for just a short time.

“Schools will be forced to make choices that are not being made based on what’s best for students,” Jones said. “It will be hard to undo.”

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Comments (7 Responses)

  1. CJB says:

    “Once again, the president offered no credible plan that can pass Congress — only more calls for higher taxes,” – says it all. Obama has no interest in resolving this – only at pointing fingers.

  2. Patricia E Chandler says:

    I just contacted my local and newly elected District Congressman, Hakeem Jefferies (CD-8) and included that wonderful 102 point laundry list of Waste; I also included my own call for a response and action. I’ve been an community activist of 1 and a self-advocate and activist for Autism since Fall 2011; I am trying to build a Community Coalition to Support Autism, since Fall 2012, and am working with the office of an Assemblyman who is not in my district. I will reach out to any Elected Official who really Cares. My Local District Assemblyman and Senatewoman Do Not Care. I can only hope, pray and continue to have Faith that Congressman Jefferies does. We VOTE Them IN. They WORK for US; remember that. If I didn’t have an (unvisable disability, I would run for a local district position, and based on prior community experience and response to my vocal passions about Human Rights, I would probably win. We need to encourage our Children to get involved, politically because we VOTE these People Into office to Govern, thus Rule our everyday day Lives; these elected officials Draft, Legislate and VOTE IN the Laws of the United States Of America. We elect these Women and Men to help ensure we are educated, fed, sheltered, quality medically care for, protected, motivated to contribute artistically and humanely towards one another and judging by the way the “House that the GOP Built”, we are Lucky to just be alive. Well, I wasn’t born to just, get by. Google your State Congressperson, Senator, Assemblyperson, Speaker and WRITE them All. I Do and they have to Listen because, simply put, MY VOTE SAYS THEY WORK FOR ME. Why else would they be there? Good Luck to all of Us.

  3. Tacitus says:

    We’ve got gerrymandered districts where the party that usually comes out of that district–whether democratic or republic–can be expected to control the next election. Which means that the majority of “voting” happens during primaries. We need to rip out the gerrymandered districts from under these people, and then they will be unable to guarantee their reelection. Then institute term limits, so people have to do research on each person they send to the congress. This isn’t a partisan issue, it’s a problem inherent to our electoral system, and we need to fix that first of all.

  4. Betsy says:

    First I would like to say, I always believed it should be illegal to cut Ed & related services. Unfortunately that seems to be e first place people cut funding. There are plenty of other places to cut the budget, like for Panned Parenthood. Which receives billions of our tax dollars. For abortions . Some of the unborn could and are special needs. We tax payers just paid for the Obama’s to go on 2 separate vactions. I can think of much better use for that money. Like for the special needs community. Both political parties needs to get their acts together. It is not just a democrat or republican thing. Sorry for the long rant.

  5. soricobob says:

    Placing blame at the feet of Congress or with the President is a fool’s game. The problem lies with a culture that has allowed the politicalization of peoples lives and livelihood. It became a political football in the 30s because FDR was “socializing” America, and it hasn’t stopped. We (the voters) can make it stopp, but when we look the issue(s) in the eye, we blink.

  6. JLSINCT says:

    CJB- read the Constitution. The responsibility for a plan (e.g., laws, appropriations) is Congress’, not the Executive branch’s. Our Legislative branch has become an obstructionist, do-nothing fixture, with particular influence of the GOP.
    Betsy- Some of your comment makes no sense (try proofreading). No federal funds (zero, none, not-a-cent) are used to fund abortions. And Planned Parenthood happens to be virtually the only provider of healthcare to many women in rural/small-town America. Every President in my lifetime (I go back to Ike) has taken some breaks from D.C., some more than others. Mr. Obama seems to hardly ever take a break. George W spent a lot of time clearing brush and mountain biking in Texas while Cheney managed things in D.C. Bush & Cheney took us into Iraq and Afghanistan to lose thousands of precious lives (fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, siblings) and to waste BILLIONS of dollars every week for nothing. If we had the $$$ spent on these wars to spend on education, services for the disabled, homes for homeless people, food and health care for the impoverished, job training, job creation, etc., we would be a stronger nation. $$ spent on presidential vacations and healthcare for women through Planned Parenthood is a tiny proportion of this military waste.

  7. Cori says:

    I have 5 kids, 2 biological 3 are step kids. 2 of my step kids have developmental delays related to autism and other neurological disorders. Getting them services has been a nightmare!!!! I can not believe the wait time due to places being understaffed! In my town Salem Oregon our state capital there is currently 1 place offering speech therapy. This is unbelievable! Everyone talks about the importance of early intervention and how receiving the correct services various therapies canbe beneficial, however if it takes 1-2 years to get in we are wasting valuable time!

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