Education Funding

Special Education Funding Maintained in Trump Administration Budget Blueprint

By Christina A. Samuels — March 16, 2017 3 min read
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The “skinny” budget blueprint released by the Trump administration Thursday would maintain current spending levels for special education—about $13 billion, most of which is money sent directly to states.

The budget blueprint is just the beginning of a long process. While this document shows the administration’s priorities, it is Congress that ultimately passes spending legislation. And lawmakers have their own ideas about what programs should be cut, and which should be kept.

But, if these funding amounts were to stay in place, the federal contribution for special education and related services would be about 16 percent of the excess costs of educating a student with a disability, compared to a general education student.

In 1975, when the federal government passed the law that was to become the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Congress authorized paying states up to 40 percent of the excess costs of educating a student with disabilities, based on national per-pupil expenditures. But in the 40-plus years of the law’s existence, the federal government has never gotten close to meeting that goal. The Trump administration is not different from other administrations in that regard.

The budget blueprint shows that the Education Department, at least right now, is not planning to cut special education in order to fund its other goals, which include a $1.4 billion increase in school choice, which would include $250 million for a new private school choice program, and $168 million increase for a program aimed at supporting charter school expansion.

The Trump administration does propose reducing impact aid, which gives money to school districts that have a large federal presence. Federal property is exempt from local taxes, so impact aid is meant to help make up for tax revenue that cannot be collected by state and local taxing authorities. In fiscal 2016, about $48 million of the $1.3 billion allotted for impact aid was designated specifically for educating students with disabilities.

Education Programs to Watch For

There are several education programs for students with special needs that the budget blueprint does not mention. They include:

The Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program: This program, which awarded $12 million in fiscal 2016, has always been on the edge; for several fiscal years it went unfunded. It supports research into identifying gifted students from underserved groups, including students with disabilities, minority students and English-language learners. A program to identify underrepresented minorities in Seminole County, Fla., was funded in the most recent set of Javits grants; I wrote about the program, Project ELEVATE, earlier this year.

M. René Islas, the executive director for the National Association for Gifted Children, said in a statement that polls show the public supports increased funding for gifted education. “It is our hope that the administration’s final detailed budget maintains funding for the Javits program and reflects the will of the voters,” he said.

Supported Employment State Grants: This grant program supplements the money that states already receive through the mandatory vocational rehabilitation state grants to support people with significant disabilities. About $27 million was distributed through this grant program in fiscal 2016, and states are required to spend at least half of this money on programs aimed at youth, defined as people ages 14-24.

Model Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Disabilities: This program, funded at about $12 million for fiscal 2016, gives money to colleges to create college and transition options for students with intellectual disabilities.

The National Center for Special Education Research: The center was funded at $54 million for fiscal 2016.

As the budget development process goes on, we’ll learn more about their fate.

CORRECTION: This blog post has been corrected to make clear the budget proposal is to reduce the amount of impact aid to districts, not eliminate it.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.