A new report from the Government Accountability Office:
States reported that nearly all school districts generally met the local maintenance of effort (MOE) spending requirement for special education, but some districts faced challenges for various reasons. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), MOE requires districts to spend at least the same amount on special education services for students with disabilities that they spent in the preceding year, with some exceptions. In response to GAO's 50-state survey, states reported that nearly all districts met MOE based on the most recent data available in all states (school year 2012-13). However, most states reported that at least some of their districts faced challenges in doing so. In a separate GAO survey of districts, many cited budget and cost reductions—such as state or local revenue declines and new state caps on benefits, which lowered the cost of a special education teacher—as key challenges in meeting MOE.
State and district officials had mixed views on MOE's effects on services for students with and without disabilities. MOE is one of several safeguards meant to protect special education funding, and while some officials reported positive effects, others said the requirement can sometimes create unintended consequences for the services provided to special education students. They said that because the MOE requirement lacks flexibility, it can discourage districts from altering their baseline of special education spending, even when doing so would benefit students with disabilities or result in more efficient delivery of the same services. For example, despite other grant provisions in IDEA that promote innovation, some district officials commented that the MOE requirement can serve as a disincentive to districts' efforts to pilot innovative or expanded services requiring a temporary increase in funds because it would commit them to higher spending going forward. In addition, some district officials noted that prioritizing special education spending to meet MOE resulted in cuts to general education spending that affected services for all students, including the many students with disabilities who spend much of their days in general education classrooms.
The Department of Education's (Education) delayed monitoring feedback has hampered states' efforts to facilitate district compliance with MOE. In 2010, Education initiated its latest round of reviews of states' processes for overseeing their districts' compliance with IDEA, including MOE. However, Education currently has no standards for providing timely feedback on this process and—as of August 2015—had not provided feedback from these reviews to about half the states, due in part to competing priorities. Such delays are contrary to federal standards that call for prompt resolution of findings. Officials in one state said Education's untimely feedback had delayed the state's ability to provide guidance to districts regarding MOE, and in another state, monitoring was on hold until Education approved the state's process for determining MOE compliance