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Proposed Budget Deal Seen As 'Positive Step' for Special Education Aid

The bipartisan budget accord reached by congressional negotiators to roll back part of the federal sequestration cuts over the next two fiscal years is a "positive step," said one special education advocate, but it's still important to keep pressure on lawmakers to ensure adequate federal funding for special education. 

Kim Hymes, the senior director for policy and advocacy services for the Council for Exceptional Children in Arlington, Va., said the deal forged between U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, is "encouraging."

The budget plan (whose education elements are explored in more detail by my colleague Alyson Klein) would restore about $22.5 billion in fiscal 2014 of the $26 billion in non-defense discretionary funding cut out of the budget in fiscal 2013. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was cut by about $600 million.

However, the plan only gives lawmakers their top-level limits. If it is approved, committees will still have to come up with budgets that outline how that money will be spent for individual programs. IDEA funding would be one of many programs up for consideration. 

That's why, in Hymes' view, it's important to keep lawmakers apprised about the effects of budget cuts. In addition to her position with CEC, Hymes is also the co-chair of the National Coalition of Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services, which just surveyed members in its 30-member coalition about how they were handling funding reductions. Many members said that class sizes and case loads were increasing, and opportunities for professional development were being cut. 

The deal, if approved, "is only the first chapter in what will be a long process," Hymes said. "It is setting the stage for the next conversation." 

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