Across the country, states working on their budgets for the coming fiscal year are finding it difficult to make ends meet. And the once-sacred pool of money for special education programs is no longer invulnerable. Specific programs and spending overall are at risk.
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked state lawmakers to make it more difficult for special education students to go to private schools using public money. He told legislators that the city spends $100 million to send about 4,000 kids to private schools when the city can't accommodate their needs. The mayor argues, however, that the city can educate those students—and do it more cheaply. What bugs him: The students don't ever have to attend public school before asking for a placement in a private setting. The proposal has parents and advocates angry that Mr. Bloomberg is using special education students as scapegoats for the city's budget crunch.
In Texas, which is working to patch a $27 billion budget hole, one lawmaker actually proposed that students pay tuition to attend state-run schools for students who are blind, deaf and hard-of-hearing, which would be a violation of federal law. The schools work with students who can't be served well in their home school districts, and there's a waiting list as it is.
Utah has apparently managed to salvage its schools for deaf and blind students: A proposal before the state board of education to cut the schools to save $20 million was abandoned after one board member reasoned that money would still have to be spent to teach the students—wherever they were being schooled.
And without considering specific programs, some other states are planning to cut special education spending across the board. They want the blessing of the federal government so the cuts aren't doubled. If they don't get the green light from the feds, the U.S. Department of Education could penalize the states by the amount they are cutting.
Update: Today, the Obama administration released its proposed budget, which includes a request for $11.7 billion for special education, or about $200 million over 2010. But when U.S. House Republicans revealed their budget proposal last week, they didn't spare special education, my colleagues at the Politics K-12 blog write. See more details about education spending proposals on their blog, which will be updated throughout the day.