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'No' From Feds on Special Ed. Cuts in Iowa

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Iowa learned this week that it cannot cut special education spending for the current school year by about $4 million—and if it doesn't find that money in its budget, it could lose a matching amount in federal special education aid.

The news for Iowa comes just days after the Department of Education denied requests by South Carolina to cut special education spending. In that state, $111 million in federal dollars are at risk. (Earlier this year, the federal government denied Oregon's request to cut special education spending, too.)

In all during the last two years, Iowa has cut more than $40 million from its special ed budget. But when any state shrinks its spending on students with disabilities, it must ask the federal government for permission or risk losing a matching amount in federal special education dollars. Only natural disasters and extremely poor financial circumstances are acceptable reasons. Until the recent recession, that deterred states from asking for a pass.

In Iowa, for the 2009-10 school year, the Education Department approved a cut of about $38 million the state needed to make to balance its budget. The state cut $1.5 million beyond that, however. For the 2010-11 school year, Iowa wanted to cut another $4 million from special ed.

In a letter Tuesday, Iowa was denied both the $1.5 million and $4 million cuts.

The Iowa Department of Education said it is working on a list of options to restore that money.

"We will find a positive resolution," chief financial officer Jeff Berger told me Friday. "We are currently developing a list of options and haven't completed that conversation yet."

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