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Updated: Alabama, New Jersey Granted Requests to Cut Special Ed Spending But Oregon Denied

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Alabama is the latest state to have its request to cut special education spending—without being penalized by the federal Department of Education—granted.

The state told the U.S. Department of Education that it needed to cut about $9.2 million in special education spending from its 2010 budget, or about 1.5 percent of the state's special education spending plan compared to 2009.

If Alabama cut the special education budget without asking and getting permission from the U.S. Department of Ed first, the federal government could have withheld in federal money whatever the state was cutting. Oregon just asked for the same kind of concession. They weren't the first. The waivers, unheard of before the last couple of years, are becoming more common as states continue to wrestle with lower tax revenues.

Federal law requires states to spend the same, or more, on special education programs from year to year. This so-called maintenance of effort is required except in the case of a natural disaster, or in the case of Alabama and other states, "a precipitous and unforeseen decline in the financial resources of a state."

How Alabama will keep services going is up in the air. At the end of the day, the program's budget has been cut by millions, though millions less than it could have been. The state told The Birmingham News that the cuts, which went into effect at the beginning of the school year, should have gone unnoticed by parents and students.

But state officials also said they didn't know if some school districts cut special education teachers or aides in reaction to cuts in their budgets—and that this probably won't be the last time Alabama asks for the help.

Update: Upon closer reading of the Department of Education's website devoted to maintenance of effort waivers, I see that New Jersey's request to cut $25.7 million in special education funding for the current school year was approved.

However Oregon, which wanted approval to cut about $15.7 million from its special education budget, didn't get the green light. The U.S. Department of Education's calculations found that Oregon has the money to spend the same amount on special education this school year as it did last school year, about $350 million.

I've asked Oregon what this might mean for its special education programs and services. A couple of months ago, the state said if their waiver was denied, then for next school year, there would be layoffs at the Oregon School for the Deaf would be layoffs of staff, which would lead to higher class sizes, and the number of school days and available dorms for student would be cut. Stay tuned.

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