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More Concern on Loosened Special Education Spending Rules

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the federal Department of Education has given school districts rather broad permission to cut special education spending and never restore it.

The move alarmed some in the special education community. But one group of objectors broke the new guidance from the Education Department down into the simplest terms I've read on this somewhat complex topic. This is how they describe how the new federal guidance redefines how school districts would be allowed to reduce their special education spending:

"What would happen if you violated your lease by paying only half of your rent this month and then the next month you expected the rent to be changed to the lower amount indefinitely? The landlord would never let you be enriched by a violation in this way. You would have to go back to paying the rent you owed before you violated the lease."

That comes from a letter signed by 16 Maryland groups including the Maryland Down syndrome Advocacy Coalition, the Learning Disability Association of Maryland, and the Maryland Council for Exceptional Children. It was sent to Maryland's congressional representatives last week.

School districts have always had the option of reducing special education spending when it was justified. Those exceptions include, for example, if a student who required many expensive services moved or graduated, or if an experienced teacher with a large salary retired.

But the new rules expand districts' ability to cut spending from budgets once protected to shield students with disabilities from the whims of politics or budget cycles.

"Therefore, Congress could not have intended this to be the case when the funding level from the prior year violated the law," the collection of advocacy groups write. They point out that school districts with a poor record of meeting students' needs would not be exempt from cutting their budgets under Congress' original intent.

The bottom line: The groups want Education Secretary Arne Duncan to take back the new spending guidelines.

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