Policy Brief

S.C. Penalty Stands in Spec. Ed. Dispute

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South Carolina has been denied a second reprieve from a $36 million penalty in federal special education money, a sanction imposed because the state didn't spend enough money on special education during the 2009-10 school year.

In a letter this month, Anthony Miller, a deputy U.S. secretary of education, told South Carolina Superintendent Mick Zais the state had time to find $36 million in its state budget because it was already granted a delay of the federal penalty, which could have been imposed last July.

States that cut special education spending without getting federal permission first can be penalized. States rarely had requested exceptions to keeping special education spending stable until the current recession.

The U.S. Department of Education agreed that South Carolina's budget situation justified the state having to cut some of its special education funding. The state originally had cut more than $111 million in special education funds. But federal officials said not all of the cuts made by the state over the last four years were justified.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently visited South Carolina, and Mr. Zais asked for a meeting with the secretary and Democratic Congressman James Clyburn to discuss the issue, but he was turned down. So last week, Mr. Zais asked the state legislature to find the money in its budget to make up for the federal cuts, which will happen Oct. 1.

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The federal Education Department hasn't yet ruled on the appeal of the penalty, made last August. Winning the appeal could keep South Carolina from having its federal share of special education dollars permanently affected.

As Mr. Zais notes in his letter to state lawmakers, the penalty's effect could be felt by students.

"While I have persistently pleaded with [the Education Department] to listen to reason, those pleas have been rejected by the bureaucracy of the USDE. The children, not the adults, will be the ones hurt by this decision," he wrote. "Accordingly, the state must act to prevent an adverse impact on students with disabilities."

The state House has already voted on a budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, but the Senate hasn't finalized its spending plan and could adjust its proposal to accommodate Mr. Zais' request.

Vol. 31, Issue 29, Page 25

Published in Print: April 25, 2012, as S.C. Penalty Stands in Spec. Ed. Dispute
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