With the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives calling for a $557.7 million cut to special education spending in the current year, it's hard to complain about President Barack Obama's modest $250 million boost to the program in his fiscal year 2012 budget proposal.
The President's plans include adding about $200 million to IDEA Part B, which serves students age 3 to 21. That would fund IDEA at about 17 percent, according to the Council for Exceptional Children. Building toward funding IDEA fully, i.e., with 40 percent of the contribution coming from the federal government, would mean increases of a few billion dollars a year, Deborah Ziegler, the Council's associate executive director for policy and advocacy services, told me.
She said the Council welcomed the proposed overall increase, in particular the $50 million boost to Part C, programs for infants and toddlers, especially in light of the dramatic cuts proposed in the House.
"Think about what that means," Ms. Ziegler said of the cuts. "Districts are already strapped."
Many districts have already cut general education programs to keep special education programs intact and meet the requirements of students' Individualized Education Programs. "Eighty percent of kids with disabilities spend 60 percent of their time in general education programs. You have to have a strong general education program to run a strong program for students with disabilities."
The group is also concerned about a change proposed by the president that would, for the second year in a row, consolidate the only program for gifted and talented students with other programs that don't directly address these students. "Our nation cannot afford for gifted education to be an afterthought, and CEC hopes that this program consolidation does not result in the complete withdrawal of the federal government's investment in gifted education," the group said in a statement.
Considering Congress hasn't gotten around to approving the 2011 budget (Remember, these proposals are for the 2012 fiscal year.) it's unclear what any of these spending plans will end up looking like.