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'The Single Most Important Issue Facing Special Education Today'?

Remember all the concern from last fall about how school districts were given more leeway about special education spending?

Well, special education advocates haven't let up. In December, the Advocacy Institute and the Center for Law and Education reiterated their worries to the National Disability Council.

They were reacting to a letter last June from the federal Department of Education that said if districts lower their special education spending for any reason, whether or not it's because of the exceptions built into the law, it's now permissible not to resume spending at the previously higher level.

In the past, federal law was interpreted to mean that once a district set its special education budget, it could not be reduced permanently except for very specific reasons. The so-called maintenance-of-effort provision was built into special education spending rules to buffer students with disabilities from changes in services triggered by the ups and downs of public spending and politics.

The shift, the advocates say, is a threat to the fundamental protections afforded to students with disabilities in federal law: a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. When combined with other budget issues—including the spike in federal funding for education spending because of the economic stimulus act that prompted districts to reduce their special education budgets—the budget woes "seem destined to converge to form the single most important issue facing special education today," they wrote to the National Council on Disability.

Districts, however, may have a different perspective on new special education budget flexibility.

The Advocacy Institute and Center for Law and Education want the department to rescind their interpretation of federal special education spending rules. They are hoping the Council, which advises the president and Congress, will advocate for the same thing.

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