The U.S. Department of Education will release a final rule in the Federal Register Tuesday on how school districts are supposed to comply with a section of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that spells out special education finance provisions.
Among the issues the rule aims to clarify is that if a school district reduces the amount it spends on special education in a given year, it cannot use that new, lowered baseline in order to calculate how much it should spend on special education in subsequent years.
Confusing? Here’s some background:
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that school districts generally spend the same amount of money, or more, on special education from year to year. This is called “maintenance of effort.” There are a few exceptions—for example, if a highly-paid staff member leaves and is replaced with someone who does not earn as much, or if a student who needed a lot of expensive services is no longer enrolled. Other than in those few circumstances, special education spending should only stay the same or go up compared to the previous year.
But in some cases, school districts cut their special education spending anyway. Sometimes they do so because they didn’t have enough revenue, or for other reasons that are not permitted under the IDEA. (In such cases, the law spells out certain penalties.) The new rule says that districts cannot use that lowered number as a base for future calculation.
This table, one of several that will be published along with the rule, gives an example of how this might look in practice. The chart uses the term “local education agency,” or LEA, to refer to school districts. MOE stands for “maintenance of effort:"
The chart makes clear that school districts generally can only maintain or increase their spending on special education, not cut it.
The department’s guidance has varied on this point. In 2011, in response to a letter from the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, the department issued informal guidance that said if a district cut its special education funding, it could use that lowered amount as a baseline for future spending decisions. Within months, however, department officials had reversed themselves. Because the department had given out conflicting advice in the past, however, the rule states that new policy will not go into effect until July 2015.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.