Congress voted Thursday to restore $557.7 million in proposed cuts to special education, but advocates say students with disabilities aren’t out of the woods yet.

The cuts had been proposed by Republicans in the House of Representatives last week as part of a plan to trim billions from the federal budget for this fiscal year.

But an amendment approved Thursday morning took the special education cuts off the table — for the moment at least — and paved the way for the program to continue to be funded in 2011 at the same level it was during 2010.

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“As the mom of a child with special needs, I know how critical IDEA is to ensuring educational opportunities for children with disabilities,” the amendment’s sponsor Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., wrote this week to constituents on the matter. “This will ensure that Congress comes closer to meeting its commitment to IDEA, instead of passing more of the burden onto parents and schools.”

Passage of the amendment did little, however, to quell concerns from special education advocates. Even before the vote Thursday morning, the Council for Exceptional Children, which lobbies on behalf of special educators, joined nearly a dozen other education organizations to oppose McMorris Rodgers’ amendment.

The reason: they say it amounts to robbing Peter to pay Paul. That’s because under the amendment, the funds restored to special education will be taken from other education programs.

“While our goal is to save special education, saving it at the cost of general education doesn’t accomplish our goal because our students spend a disproportionate amount of their time in general education classrooms,” says Lindsay Jones, senior director of policy and advocacy for CEC.

The special education proposal surfaced as Congress works to finalize the federal budget for the 2011 fiscal year, which began in October. Through a series of stop-gap measures, government programs are being funded at last year’s levels until March 4.

The House is expected to vote this week on a funding bill including a myriad of cuts, but its fate in the Senate is unclear.

Even as Congress considers slashing education funds, President Barack Obama unveiled his budget proposal this week for 2012, which featured a very different agenda. He included a $250 million bump in funding for educating children with disabilities.

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