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West Virginia's Modest Waiver Request

West Virginia's request to the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver to reduce the amount of state support for special education is the result of good intentions leading to unintended consequences, according to the state's superintendent of education, Steven L. Paine.

As I've written before, four states have requested waivers from the Education Department that would allow the states to reduce, for one year, the amount of money that they spend on special education programs. Kansas and Iowa had their waiver requests granted, while South Carolina and West Virginia's requests are still pending. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act allows states to make these funding waiver requests if the state is facing unforeseen fiscal hardship.

West Virginia, which is asking for a waiver of $143,264, is not actually planning to cut the approximately $6 million in state aid it distributes to districts. Indeed, some programs will actually see a bit more money. The problem has arisen from a new program the state started in 2008, when the Legislature decided to set aside $500,000 that districts could tap if they needed helping paying for students with high-cost needs.

The Legislature has now pulled back on that high-risk fund, and wants to fund it at only $250,000 for the 2009-10 school year. That cut adds up to a state reduction in funding of $143,264, when you count new money going to other special education activities in the state.

As cuts go, this one would appear to be bearable. But the Education Department has said it would consider state determination ratings as part of its decision-making process, and West Virginia has just "met requirements" for the first time this year, after three previous years of needing assistance. Will that make a difference? We'll see when the department gives its response.

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