Special Report
Special Education

Restrictions on Spec. Ed. Spending Prompt Complaints

By Christina A. Samuels — May 18, 2009 | Corrected: February 22, 2019 3 min read

Corrected: An earlier version of this story contained inaccurate information about April guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on whether school districts can reduce their “maintenance of effort” in spending.

The complex rules that govern how federal dollars must be spent on special education services are getting a new, critical look as stimulus money starts flowing to the states.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act says that when federal funding increases, school districts can shift a portion of their local special education money to other educational purposes. With more than $12 billion in IDEA aid coming from the federal government under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act over two years, districts were expecting a lot of relief.

But the U.S. Department of Education has told the states some districts don’t have that flexibility after all. In the terminology used in the federal law, those districts are not providing a “free, appropriate public education.”

How many districts might be affected by that “guidance modification”, released April 13 by the Education Department, is unknown. The department ranks each state’s special education performance based on a series of indicators, and states, in turn, rank their districts based on the same indicators.

States are required to make determinations annually about the special education performance of each of their school districts. If a state determines that a district is not meeting targets in the state’s performance plan, the state must prohibit that district from reducing its “maintenance of effort” in spending, acording to the Education Department.

Too Restrictive?

Mary Kusler, the assistant director of government relations for the American Association of School Administrators, based in Arlington, Va., said the federal guidance is too restrictive.

“If every district has to spend 100 percent of its federal dollars, it makes it difficult to spend this money,” she said. Districts have been warned not to spend money on projects that may have ongoing costs because the stimulus dollars will dry up in two years.

“You can’t tell us that this was [Congress’] intent,” said Ms. Kusler, who along with other education lobbyists argued against the guidance in a meeting with federal officials. “These districts want to reclaim their local dollars. They should be allowed to do so.”

Candace Cortiella, a parent advocate with the Advocacy Institute in Marshall, Va., has created a Web site, ideamoneywatch.com, to gather information about district rankings and to make sure that districts are using their IDEA money under the stimulus as the federal government has required.

Though states are required to post indicator data from districts, they are not required to post whether a district “meets requirements,” “needs assistance,” “needs intervention,” or, in the lowest rating, “needs substantial intervention.”

“I’m certainly in favor of there being some degree of accountability before you can just take away the money,” Ms. Cortiella said.

Federal special education law also requires that school districts spend a certain percentage of federal money to provide services for students at private schools located within district boundaries.

But with so much new money coming on top of this fiscal year’s $11.1 billion for special education, it doesn’t make sense to divert the same percentage to private schools when the private schools’ needs haven’t changed, argued Kevin D. Magin, the associate superintendent for special programs for the Wayne Regional Educational Service Agency, which provides services and support to 34 school districts in Wayne County, Mich.

Relatively few private school students receive special education services, and most of them need speech therapy, a relatively inexpensive program, Mr. Magin said.

The state can’t use the extra money to buy textbooks or hire teachers for private schools, he said. And increasing the number of children served means that the state would continue to be responsible for them after the stimulus money ended.

“This is way more money than is really necessary,” Mr. Magin said of the private school share.

Georgene Wojciechowski, the associate superintendent for the 36,200-student Archdiocese of Detroit schools, deals with 56 local districts that have a Roman Catholic school within their borders. The stimulus money will help those districts “enhance what services are received,” she said, “and will help find more students faster than what had been happening.”

About 176 students received special education services in archdiocesan schools in 2007-08, she said.

“Those districts that are tighter with their budgets, this will give them more confidence” to provide services, she said.

A version of this article appeared in the May 20, 2009 edition of Education Week as Restrictions on Spec. Ed. Spending Prompt Complaints

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Building Leadership Excellence Through Instructional Coaching
Join this webinar for a discussion on instructional coaching and ways you can link your implement or build on your program.
Content provided by Whetstone Education/SchoolMint
Teaching Webinar Tips for Better Hybrid Learning: Ask the Experts What Works
Register and ask your questions about hybrid learning to our expert panel.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Families & the Community Webinar
Family Engagement for Student Success With Dr. Karen Mapp
Register for this free webinar to learn how to empower and engage families for student success featuring Karen L. Mapp.
Content provided by Panorama Education & PowerMyLearning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Hiring Bilingual and Special Education Teachers NOW!
Newark, New Jersey
Newark Public Schools
DevOps Engineer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
User Experience Analyst
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
Senior Business Analyst - 12 Month Contract
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association

Read Next

Special Education Masks Present a Challenge for Deaf Students. Here's How Colorado Schools Are Adapting
For students and teachers who rely on reading lips and facial expressions, masks impede communication.
Tiney Ricciardi, The Denver Post
6 min read
Ford has received patent-pending approval for an innovative new clear respirator it expects to certify to N95 standards of virus elimination. The transparent, low-cost, reusable respirators enable a full range of human expression, allowing people to better communicate with each other and aiding those with hearing impairments to help read lips that are today blocked by conventional cloth and filtered masks.
Ford has received patent-pending approval for an innovative new clear respirator it expects to certify to N95 standards of virus elimination. The transparent, low-cost, reusable respirators enable a full range of human expression, allowing people to better communicate with each other and aiding those with hearing impairments to help read lips that are today blocked by conventional cloth and filtered masks.
Ford Motor Company/TNS
Special Education What Biden's Pick for Ed. Secretary Discussed With Disability Rights Advocates
Advocates for students with disabilities want Biden to address discipline and the effects of COVID-19 on special education.
2 min read
Miguel Cardona, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of Education, speaks after being introduced at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del., Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, as Biden, right, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, look on.
Miguel Cardona, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of Education, speaks after being introduced at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del., Dec. 23, 2020, as Biden, right, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, left, look on.
Carolyn Kaster/AP
Special Education Schools Struggled to Serve Students With Disabilities, English-Learners During Shutdowns
The needs of students with IEPs and English-language learners were not often met after the pandemic struck, says a federal report.
3 min read
Young boy wearing a mask shown sheltering at home looking out a window with a stuffed animal.
Getty
Special Education How Will Schools Pay for Compensatory Services for Special Ed. Students?
States’ efforts so far suggest there won’t be enough money to go around for all the learning losses of students with disabilities from COVID-19 school shutdowns.
8 min read
student struggling blue IMG
iStock/Getty