Special Education

New Proposal Emerges to Boost Special Education Spending

By Nirvi Shah — August 17, 2011 1 min read
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Another bill that would task the federal government with spending more on special education is in the works.

Congressman Jared Polis, D-Colo., said Tuesday he will soon introduce a bill that would eventually require the federal government to pay for 40 percent of the cost of educating students with disabilities. The money would come from cuts to defense spending.

“This legislation keeps our promise to special education students and families and provides much needed fiscal relief to cash-strapped states and local school districts,” Mr. Polis said in a statement. “Rather than wasting taxpayer dollars on costly and ineffective defense programs, this legislation reinvests in America’s children and our economy.”

When the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was first passed in 1975, Congress was authorized to spend up to 40 percent of the cost of teaching students with disabilities. But the federal government has never come close. This year, Congress contributed 16.5 percent, or about $11.5 billion.

Mr. Polis’ Defending Special Education Students and Families Act would boost spending by cutting $18.8 billion in defense spending during the next five years, including measures such as replacing projected purchases of Navy and Marine Joint Strike Fighters with cheaper options, canceling the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, and reducing the number of aircraft carriers and Navy air wings by one.

His approach is different from a Senate bill introduced earlier this year by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, that also would boost special education spending. That bill proposes boosting the federal contribution $35.3 billion by 2021, mostly through the doubling of taxes on cigarettes and small cigars.

Rep. Polis’ bill was a surprise to some members of the IDEA Full Funding Coalition, a group that includes the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers, the Council for Exceptional Children, the Council of the Great City Schools, the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the National Education Association. The group has been working on another bill that would be a companion to the Harkin bill.

An aide to Rep. Polis said the congressman did not work with any one particular group, but did work closely with Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who has introduced a similar bill for several years.

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