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Congress Rewrites IDEA Funding Rule


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A small change tucked inside a government spending bill this month may have big implications for special education.

Lawmakers included language clarifying the penalties that states may face if they fail to adequately fund education programs for students with disabilities. The issue has become significant in recent years as states struggled financially in the recession and some sought to cut education spending.

Under federal law, special education funding must be maintained or increased from one year to the next. If states fail to meet what’s known as “maintenance of effort” without obtaining a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, they can lose out on future federal dollars.

At least two states — South Carolina and Kansas — got into trouble in recent years for slashing their special education budgets without federal approval. As a result, they faced permanent reductions in their allocations from the Department of Education.

Now, Congress has clarified that any penalties assessed for failing to meet maintenance of effort should only apply for the year or years that the requirement is not met. Moreover, any funds that are taken away from states for being out of compliance will not automatically return to the federal coffers, but instead can be redistributed to other states that follow the rules as bonus special education dollars.

“Without this language, these funds for special education and related services would lapse and be unavailable for the children with disabilities they are intended to serve,” said Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the Department of Education, in a statement.

The change, which was proposed by the Obama administration, had broad support on Capitol Hill, congressional staffers say.

The move is also winning props from state leaders. Mick Zais, South Carolina’s superintendent of education, had been among the most vocal in pressing for a policy change after his state faced over $36 million in what he called an “absurd perpetual penalty.”

“This is a victory for students with disabilities in South Carolina and across the nation,” Zais said of the congressional action.

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Comments (12 Responses)

  1. Mary Swifka says:

    While that is good news, we still need the feds to pony-up on the special education funding that they have been promising for 40 years but states have never seen.

  2. SonjaL says:

    Taking funds away from states who don’t comply only hurts the students. ALL states are ALWAYS out of compliance in some way or another. It’s a constant joke with the Special Education Community Advisory Committees and Councils. States send “assurances” to federal officials claiming that written procedures are in place, yet little is done to ensure that these “assurances” of “the ability to provide” services actually happens.

    Families are still bullied and considered hostile when they fight for basic services.
    All the money is going to attorneys who are building swimming pools in their backyards with the funds that should be going to services for our students with disabilities.

    Until we see more transparency, better accountability and oversight with a system in place that can help kids when they need the help, we’ll continue to see non-compliance. Until our administrators, teachers, aides and all school personnel start working with compassion, kindness and true understanding of the issues our children (and our famlies) face on a daily basis – there will be no change.

  3. tonia reed says:

    I agree entirely with both comments. To add to that special education teachers get buillied and are considered hostile as well. We are also considered as complainers who don’t want to do our job when we ask for things that will help our students be more successful. However, we need not to be so quick to believe that schools have the power to make change. Money is being taken away from special education to fund general education and money is being taken away from general education to fund special education. It is a vicious circle and all of education is hurting. I wish that families and teachers would/could get together and march on Washington if need be and demand a stop to the madness. I have heard some say that money is not the answer. Well, how about this? Let’s try it and see! Our Government can spend a billion dollars a day to fight a war.

  4. matt parker says:

    I live in South Carolina and the article in The State newspaper said that “State education officials might ask the Senate Finance Committee to consider keeping that money for some other use,” this was a comment made by Superintendent Mick Zais’s spokesman, Jay Ragley..
    I have an Autistic child in an SC school district and I know we need that money for support personnel for therapies and behavioral assessments.

  5. soricobob says:

    So, in fact, what you’re saying is that if it were not for the Federal Government’s watchful eye, States would do anything possible to cut progressive legislation. And, has anything changed since Little Rock?

  6. Voiceofmychildren says:

    Increase funds or decrease funds it makes no difference when the basic principles of human kindness and legal requirements for compliance are neither implemented nor enforced. Of course, money helps, but only when it’s used properly. The issue is really one of humanity. Our schools and districts still, in 2013, refuse to implement individualized instructional and inclusionary services that are free. My children’s schools/district deny the use of AT even though they woudn’t have to incur any cost, as we already own and will happily provide the devices. Valuable resources are neglected for no reason. We own a G-5 Mac, an eMac, 2 iPod-touch, 3 iPhone-4, 2 MacBook Pro, a MacMini, an iPad (first generation), and an iPadMini. The schools/district won’t allow the use of any of these devices, they refuse to accept work that I scribe, they refuse to accommodate for extra time/breaks/parent involvement-assistance-volunteer-donations/oral reports/oral exams/preferential seating, etc…They refuse to consider and offer the things that are free!!! What good will money do? Money will only further assist the covering up non-compliance practices and line the pockets/promotion/tenure to those who follow suit. The schools/district openly challenge parents to Mediation and Due Proces, they gloat at “owning the system”, and retaliate when opposed because, “Heh, heh, heh, who’s going to stop us? Enforcement is a joke, compliance is an illusion, and very few actually care.” (Direct quote from a district LEA) How will funds remedy that type of thinking, belief, or methodology?
    Funds won’t fix the problem(s) when our schools/districts are peppered with individuals in power who discriminate to any degree.

  7. Phillip says:

    Put the money in the hands of the parents as a special needs voucher. Let the parents decide which school district is best for their child. If this is ever done, it will greatly reduce the number of lawsuits against districts, as the districts will have to finally pay attention to parents. I am not a parent of a child with a disability, but an advocate who has seen far to many shenanigans from districts who pride themselves as keepers of the gate tactics. Power to the people, not the institution.

  8. mom, thats enough says:

    Law firms should not be allowed to train LEAs/Selpas. How is ok to spend special ed funds (SELPA) on attorneys to train staff and admin and teachers? These are the same attorneys who fight parents who are asking for the basics? Money would be better spent providing programs that remediate students. Help teachers and admin learn how to help kids who learn differently. How do families have a chance with this bias? I think this is at the root of the problem.

  9. DSW says:

    Seems like your punishing the students, not the state administration if you further cutting federal funding as a penalty for state cuts. Seems like some other penalty should take the place.

  10. desire wall says:

    I am a student with disabilities trying to educate myself without he help of the special program at he college i dont know what would happen to me with there help i have had 3 succesful years at college although it may take me longer then most i am greatful to have there help and cutting there prgoram would cut alot of us frojm getting the help we need so please dont targets the special needs prgrams at the schools thanks you

  11. Connie Davidson says:

    It’s great news if true. Between what the MI Governor and his Congress and the unpaid federal promises made long ago both general and special education students have suffered meeting “un” or underfunded state and federal mandates.

  12. Nicki says:

    This seems like an awful way to motivate districts. The students are the people being punished and not getting the funding that they deserve. Why are these funds not given directly to special education? If states are not being responsible and cutting funds that are mandated then maybe it should be given directly to each department and bypass the state all together. If the State is financially responsible to allocate certain funds and are not doing it, perhaps there should be better consequences. For example, perhaps for each year these funds that are not fulfilled the Senator himself takes a pay cut. That may be more incentive to give the funds that are meant to be allocated into the right hands.

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