After being pounded by budget cuts last year, special education is set to see some relief under a deal approved by Congress.
Federal funding for programs benefiting students with disabilities will rise by roughly $500 million this year under a $1.012 trillion bipartisan spending bill passed this week in Congress that’s expected to be signed by President Barack Obama.
That’s enough money to add some 6,000 more special education staff across the country, lawmakers said.
The deal brings the total funding for programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to $12.5 billion for the current fiscal year, which runs through September. The figure represents an increase over last year, restoring many of the across-the-board spending cuts that took hold under sequestration, but is still less than the federal government spent on special education in 2012.
“Given the fiscal climate and the pressures that members of Congress are under to cut from all programs, we recognize that getting a $500 million increase is a positive step,” said Kim Hymes, senior director of policy and advocacy at the Council for Exceptional Children, which lobbies on behalf of special educators.
Nonetheless, she acknowledged that “it is far from what we need.”
In addition to special education, the research budget at the National Institutes of Health will rise under the deal, as will funding for mental health programs and Section 8 housing assistance for renters.
At the same time, however, federal spending on state vocational rehabilitation grants, the IDEA preschool program, state developmental disabilities councils and some other programs benefiting people with disabilities will remain flat, according to Katy Neas, senior vice president of government relations at Easter Seals.
“Given what could have happened, this is a victory,” Neas said. “We are still way behind in getting to a level playing field in most disability programs — the current need far outweighs what the current funding levels support, but we could have gone farther backwards and we didn’t.”