After President Obama put forth his budget calling for increased federal spending for special needs individuals, the House passed its budget slashing proposal which cut 557 million dollars of funding for IDEA. This reduction was from the amount spent this year and does include the increase included in President Obama’s budget proposal.
It is important to understand what such a reduction in funding would have accomplished-a further transfer of the cost of educating special needs students on to the states. While almost everyone agrees that the feds need to reduce spending, there is a fact about IDEA that makes it very attractive for federal red-liners to target. The IDEA contains a clause known as “maintenance of effort.” The essence of maintenance of effort is that no matter how deep the budget difficulties of a state, it must fund special education at or greater than whatever was spent in the prior fiscal year or risk losing federal special education dollars. Currently, the federal government funds 18 percent of the cost of special education. Were it to spend less, as the House initially proposed, the costs of special education would be unaffected. All that would change is that cash-strapped states would be forced to make up the difference of whatever amount of spending the Feds achieved.
On Thursday though, the House passed an amendment to restore the 557 million dollars in funding. If you are an advocate of special needs children, this sounds positive. The problem is that this restoration of funding was attained by slashing that same amount of money from other educational areas, thus resulting in the passage of a proposal that negatively impacts children. The majority of most special needs students’ instruction takes place in regular education classrooms, so cutting funding to the regular education program affects the quality of their overall educational experience.
As if you did not have enough on your plate raising a family, working, and navigating the daily difficulties of existence, now you need to add to your list of to-do’s contacting your local representative to vote for Obama’s Winning the Future for People with Disabilities. There are difficult days ahead as all special interest groups scramble to secure their share of a shrinking federal pie. The voice of those advocating the disabled must be heard, joining its collective voice to that of our President who is supporting the cause of helping our most at-risk individuals.
Gregory Branch is a licensed California attorney, a school teacher, and a former school administrator who practices in Orange County, California. Mr. Branch’s practice focuses on special education issues. He can be reached with questions or comments at [email protected]