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Jobs of Thousands of Special Education Teachers At Risk

A new report from Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee says that those looming automatic cuts to federal spending will take an especially big bite out of special education.

The report issued last week says 12,000 special education teachers and aides could lose their jobs if automatic cuts in federal special education grants to states go through.

These automatic cuts, the wonky term for which is sequestration, are set to take effect Jan. 2. They stem from Congress' disagreement over raising the federal debt ceiling last summer. Lawmakers decided they needed to cut $1.2 trillion out of the federal budget over the next 10 years. The plan was to work on a bipartisan agreement to figure out what those cuts should be, but since they didn't figure out a compromise, across-the-board budget cuts go into effect automatically. (For schools, the single silver lining is that the cuts wouldn't really be felt until the 2013-14 school year.)

The White House had already warned that cuts to special education and other education spending would be steep: an 8.2 percent cut to almost every U.S. Department of Education program. That would mean special education programs, funded at about $12.6 billion, would be cut by about $1 billion.

The result, the new report from the House says—aside from fewer special education teachers—will be 100,000 fewer children enrolled in Head Start, 20,000 fewer Head Start employees, 16,000 fewer teachers and aides working in schools where many students come from low-income families because of cuts to Title I grants, and 4,300 fewer at-risk youth in the Job Corps education and skills training program.

Those 12,000 teachers and aides affect more than 500,000 students with special needs, the Democrats said. The cuts raise a bunch of questions about requirements meant to keep spending stable from year to year—an issue that's especially delicate in the special education world. The provision was put into place to buffer students and their services from budget fluctuations. But will states be expected to make up what is cut by the feds?

As my colleagues over at Politics K-12 have written, if sequestration is to be circumvented, that won't happen until after the November election, when Congress comes back to work. Still, the Council for Exceptional Children is urging people to weigh in now.

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