Despite several recent threats to cut funding for special education, federal spending on students with disabilities will increase this year.

Congress approved an additional $100 million for special education under a budget passed in late December.

Though the increase is modest, advocates say any extra funds represent a win given Washington’s recent focus on trimming costs.

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“It’s a good outcome,” said Lindsay Jones, senior director for policy and advocacy at the Council for Exceptional Children, which lobbies on behalf of special educators. “We always want more money and we’re nowhere near full funding, but considering the political climate, this is fine.”

When the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act became law in the 1970s, Congress committed to funding 40 percent of the program’s cost, but that never happened and today the federal government pays for less than 20 percent.

Jones described last year as a “roller coaster,” which began with a proposal to cut $557.7 million from the federal special education budget. As a result, advocates say they’re breathing a sigh of relief now that funding did not shrink.

In addition to the $100 million added to special education, Congress also provided an extra $5 million for programs supporting young children with disabilities as well as increases in funding for parent information centers and technical assistance.

Like all education programs, however, special education was subject to an across the board cut of nearly 2 percent, so the true growth in funding for this year compared to 2011 will be slightly less than the $100 million increase.

School districts will receive their next round of funding from Washington this summer and that’s when the newly-approved increases from this year’s budget will head their way.

Despite the good news this year, advocates say next year’s budget could spell trouble, however. Since lawmakers were not able to reach a deal last fall to reduce the federal deficit, automatic spending cuts are slated to hit many programs, including education, in January 2013.

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