Facing a whopping $36 million reduction in federal special education funds as punishment for spending too little, South Carolina is getting a reprieve. The cut will be delayed for one year.

The situation comes after South Carolina reduced its contribution to special education by roughly $36 million in 2009-2010 without receiving federal approval.

Under federal law, states cannot decrease funding for special education from one year to the next without a waiver from the Department of Education. But such exemptions are only handed out in cases of “exceptional or uncontrollable circumstances.”

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As punishment for acting without a waiver, officials in Washington said in June that they would reduce South Carolina’s allocation for the coming school year.

But in a change of heart, the Department of Education now says it will hold off on the cut for one year.

The delay is designed to ensure that state and local officials have time to plan for the reduced funding without compromising the rights of students with disabilities to a free and appropriate public education, said Alexa Posny, assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services at the Education Department, in a letter to the state last week.

In the meantime, South Carolina officials are appealing the funding cut and told The Associated Press — which first reported the delay — that they’re prepared to take up their case with Congress or the courts.

If the cut sticks, however, it could sting for years to come. That’s because the lower funding amount will be used in later years as the basis for calculating future appropriations.

South Carolina is not the only state facing this predicament. Iowa also reduced special education funding without federal approval and is subject to a funding cut as well.