Is there enough money for special education?

September 28, 2011 by JoLynne Lyon

Martin Blair, left, at the Utah Utah Special Education Law Institute

By Dr. Martin Blair, associate director at Technical Assistiance for Excellence in Special Education.

The Center for Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education (TAESE) at the CPD organizes a variety of special education conferences and meetings around the country. We talk about  discipline, family involvement, compliance with federal regulations, etc.

But the “hallway chatter” these days usually ends up on the same topic: “How are we going to provide increasingly expensive special education with current or decreasing funding levels?”

States have a federal requirement to budget at least the same or more funds for special education from year to year.  This can be nearly impossible for those states who see their annual income decrease from year to year. Some states have asked that this “Maintenance of State Fiscal Support” or MFS requirement be waived. Special education advocates see this as a reduction in services to children with disabilities.

Local school districts, including Charter schools, are required to spend the same amount from year to year. This is referred to as the local “Maintenance of Effort–MOE” requirement. The exceptions to this rule are few and very specific. (See OSEP Memo 10-5.)

State and local special education administrators ask, “Should states and districts be held to these MFS or MOE requirements even when funds for other critical social services are reduced or cut completely?” “Should the federal government grant MFS waivers to States?” “If States provide less funding to local districts, how will special education services be prioritized, especially if the federal law requires that each eligible student receive a free appropriate public education?”

Advocates, families, students and school administrators answer these questions in a variety of ways. The bottom line: there may not be a right or best answer, only a better answer. However, what is “better” depends on which policies and programs we each find most important and most closely aligned with our personal values.

Note: This issue is discussed in detail in an Education Week article by Nirvi Shah, the website’s special education blogger.

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