The U.S. Department of Education has delayed its plan to cut South Carolina’s share of federal special education dollars by $36 million, raising questions about whether such penalties for states that reduce special education spending without federal approval are meaningful.
States are required by federal funding rules to maintain or increase their special education spending, regardless of financial crises, unless the Education Department grants permission.
In recent years, several states have asked for such exemptions, citing the economic downturn. South Carolina won a reprieve for the 2008-09 school year, when it decreased its special education spending by $20 million. For 2009-10, it cut about $67 million, but the Education Department in June determined that only $31 million of that was attributable to financial woes, leaving a $36 million gap.
The state education department’s general counsel, Shelly Kelly, said that the federal government “abused” its authority and took too long to issue a decision, and that the state would fight the penalty.
Federal officials say the one-year delay is intended to give districts time to prepare.
A version of this article appeared in the August 24, 2011 edition of Education Week as Penalty Delayed for Cutting S.C.'s Special Ed. Dollars