When Congress passed a short-term budget bill that expires Nov. 18, lawmakers may not have realized what some of the bill's potential long-term effects might be on education spending—although states and school districts noticed their action right away.
Spending for four programs—special education, Title I, teacher quality, and career and technical education—for the current school year was cut, presumably well after most states and school districts had spending plans for the year in place.
"The states have had the rug pulled out from under them," said Lindsay Jones, the senior director of policy and advocacy services for the Washington-based Council for Exceptional Children. (See page 8 in this document for how the cuts break down in special education.)
Because of the way the current continuing resolution was written, only federal programs that get advance appropriations were affected, so spending on other education programs wasn't cut, at least not by this bill, and not right now.
The cuts total $329 million, the largest chunks of which are $163 million for Title I and $129 million for special education.
The impression special education advocates, including Ms. Jones, have is that Congress' action was inadvertent. They point to the U.S. Senate's spending proposal for the 2012 fiscal year, which would keep special education spending level, and the House proposal that boosts spending by $1.2 billion, albeit by cutting other education programs.
In all, the cuts represent a 1.5 percent decrease for each of the four programs. But if spending isn't returned to the level it was before the decrease, the percentage could grow significantly if funding is kept level for the 2012 fiscal year, since "level" will be a reduction. In a letter to House and Senate education committee leaders, the Committee for Education Funding pressed Congress to take action on both fronts.
"We urge you ... to provide funds to restore this $329 million cut," the letters read. "Schools had been anticipating the use of these funds as they had been included in an earlier allocation notification. We also urge that in the unfortunate event that this cut is not restored, that it not result in the reduction in the level of advanced appropriations provided in the FY 2012 bill... to avoid permanently lowering the baseline level of funding."