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Monday, June 27, 2011

The Special Ed Squeeze

As one-time aid from the federal economic-stimulus program and the $10 billion Education Jobs Fund evaporates, states using that money to keep their special education budgets afloat are starting to come up short—in some cases putting other federal aid in jeopardy.

In South Carolina, for example, the U.S. Department of Education has threatened to cut $111 million in special education funding, an amount that matches state cuts over the past few years that the department believes were unjustified. The possibility of federal punishment has left the Palmetto State scrambling to come up with at least part of the money it previously cut.

“Next year is going to be rougher for states and school districts than any other year,” said Mike Griffith, a senior policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States, in Denver. “I will just lay money down on that.”

While states can trim most portions of their education budgets as they see fit, the federal “maintenance of effort” rule says they must keep special education spending the same from year to year, or increase it, regardless of the condition of their budgets. The requirement is intended to keep services for students with disabilities insulated from the ebb and flow of the budget cycle.