Gifted Education, Special Education See Funding Increases in Federal Budget Bill
The federal budget bill is being lauded by early childhood education supporters for its large boosts to Head Start, but the bill is also receiving praise from gifted education advocates for restoring funding to the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act, which was defunded by Congress in fiscal 2011.
Congress set aside $5 million for the program, which supports applied research to develop classroom strategies for identifying and serving gifted students. The money has been used for such projects as: identifying preschool students from racial and ethnic groups traditionally underrepresented in gifted education; developing appropriate programs for gifted students with learning difficulties; and improving professional development for teachers.
However, the funding for the act has been on a downward slide since its peak of $11.25 million in 2002 until it was finally zeroed out, so the renewed interest in the program has been welcome, said Jane Clarenbach, the director of public education for the National Association for Gifted Children, in Washington.
"I'd like to think that we've reached the bottom and are making our way back up," said Clarenbach, who praised Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland, for keeping attention focused on the needs of gifted learners. "It's a shot in the arm to this community."
Special education also saw an increase in funding of $497 million for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which brings its funding to $11.5 billion, not quite as high as the $11.6 billion budget it had before the sequester cuts.
That money is also welcome, but the special education law is not written to handle swings in funding, said Candace Cortiella, a special education advocate who writes the IDEA Money Watch blog. For example, the law allows school districts that see an increase in federal funding to reduce their local funding by half of the increase—so, for example, a $1 million increase in federal funds would allow a local district to reduce funding by $500,000. That would be fine if the federal funding remained the same or only went up, but recent years have seen federal funding for special education go up and down, she said.
"In these continuing difficult financial times, there might be a tendency [for districts] to use that provision," Cortiella said.