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States Cut Funding, Advocates Get Anxious

I spent last week delving into the morass that is special education funding in order to turn out this article (free to read until June 17!) on how a few states have asked for permission to cut their special education funding this fiscal year because they're running out of money.

Though three states are the only ones known to have asked for permission to cut funding (and only two, Iowa and Kansas, are known to have been approved) advocates in Illinois and New Jersey are also concerned. They've seen the proposed budgets for their states, and there's a suspicious lack of state special education funding there, they believe.

Normally, states aren't allowed to cut the amount of money they give to their local districts (and local districts and states pay for most special education services; the federal government kicks in about 17 percent of the cost of educating a student under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which has long been a concern.)

Even though the feds don't give most of the money, they do make most of rules. And one rule allows states to request a one-year waiver of their special education funding burden if the state is facing unforeseen financial problems. Iowa and Kansas got a waiver; South Carolina has asked for one but has not received word from the department on whether the request will be granted. I reached out to the Education department several times last week for an interview, but officials have not yet responded.

Without such a waiver, a state faces penalties for cutting its special education funding, including, ironically, a potential loss of its federal special education dollars. One cut leads to another cut.

I would not have been able to write the story as easily without documentation that has been gathered by IDEA Money Watch, which I've mentioned in other blog posts. The site has done a great job at gathering public documents related to special education stimulus spending.

The budget deficits that states face are very real. So are the requirements to provide children with disabilities a free, appropriate public education. Is one requirement going to have to yield to fiscal realities? Is there a way to somehow provide FAPE with less money? With stimulus funds drying up, the next fiscal year should be quite a test.

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