As a new round of budget talks gets underway in Congress, special education advocates are sounding the alarm about big cuts that may be on the horizon.

Preliminary figures from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations indicate that education programs could be slashed by nearly 20 percent for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, partly as a result of the sequester, the across-the-board spending cuts that took effect in March.

Though detailed proposals have yet to be released, the Council for Exceptional Children — which lobbies on behalf of special educators — is estimating that such cuts would mean more than $2 billion less for programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

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“When you see these figures in black and white, it’s pretty stunning,” said Lindsay Jones, senior director for policy and advocacy at CEC. “I don’t know how (schools) could withstand it.”

The level of cutbacks proposed is drawing concern from the broader education community.

In a letter to lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee last week, 10 education groups including the National Education Association and the National School Boards Association banded together to ask the panel to reject what they called “devastating cuts.”

“These extreme cuts in funding to all education programs will hurt all students, and many of those with disabilities will be hurt twice and three times over because of the across-the-board cuts to education programs,” they wrote.

Meanwhile, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who chairs the House education committee, wrote to his colleagues to ask that they support an increase in federal funding for special education programs.

So far, no figures have been released from the U.S. Senate and CEC’s Jones said she expects the two panels’ proposals to be far apart, which may mean significant negotiations lie ahead.

“We’re extremely worried,” she said.