To the Editor:
The “maintenance of effort” requirement in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grew out of the inability of states and local education agencies to provide sufficient financial resources to meet their duty to educate children with disabilities. It refers only to the money spent by local districts on the excess cost of special education and related services. Students with disabilities feel cuts to general education budgets as acutely as their counterparts without disabilities. Most spend the majority of their day in general education classrooms—when class size is increased, they feel it. When instructional materials are cut back, they feel it.
Congress expressly provided for circumstances that allow districts to reduce local spending and remain at that new, lower level. The U.S. Department of Education’s new interpretation of the IDEA’s maintenance-of-effort provision (“Rules Relaxed on Budget Cuts to Special Ed.,” Sept. 14, 2011) falls outside the authority of the agency. And, if the Education Department feels confident that districts will continue to provide the funding needed to meet their obligations to students with disabilities, we need to look no further than the reports issued year after year, by both the department and the National Council on Disability, regarding the failure of states and districts to provide an appropriate education for the nation’s 6 million special education students.
To be clear, this requirement is a condition of receiving annual federal funds for special education. If districts want to violate maintenance of effort, they are free to do so. And, by doing so, they should sacrifice their eligibility for federal funds, and not continue to enjoy those funds while failing to provide adequately for their students with disabilities, which the Education Department’s new guidance appears to allow.
The Advocacy Institute
A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 2011 edition of Education Week as Districts Should Lose Funds If They Reduce Spec. Ed.