Edweek’s Nirvi Shah reports on the anxiety many Special Education advocates are feeling in response to recent federal efforts to relax funding rules in, Feds Loosen Rules on Cutting Special Ed. Spending. I would urge for advocates to consider that the action could in fact lead to needed improvement delivery of special education.
Previously, federal law seemed to mandate that districts keep special education at a consistent level due to a maintenance-of-effort provision, with a few specific exceptions allowing for the budget to be reduced. Under most interpretations, if a district were to ever overspend one year, they would never be able to drop below that year’s spending unless they wanted to risk the loss of federal funding. Districts could literally end up paying for their mistakes for years without any possible chance of revision to their special education budget.
Now, under the new DOE interpretation, schools are only required to meet their budgetary spending on special education from the previous year. This means districts that believe they are overspending on special education could make a one-time reduction that would cost them their federal funding for a year, and then be eligible to receive funding again the following year without returning to their overspending.
This change by the Department of Education promotes fiscal prudence. Fiscal prudence benefits all students, including special education students, because while it’s important to spend sufficiently to educate students, how well we spend our scarce dollars seems even more important.