Special Education

Wisconsin Districts Ask to Cut Special Ed. Budgets Without Penalty

By Nirvi Shah — December 02, 2011 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Disability advocates are upset that some Wisconsin school districts want to be able to cut special education spending without losing losing federal funds.

Disability Rights Wisconsin said they just recently learned of a May letter to Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisc., asking for changes to the portion of the federal law requiring districts to keep spending on students with disabilities level from year to year. The clause is intended to buffer special education from the budget cycle and political whims.

“While we acknowledge difficult financial times over the past three years which have made state and local education budgeting decisions particularly tenuous, our state legislature has made deliberate choices in education funding priorities that have put pressure on [districts] to reduce school funding,” the group wrote in a letter Thursday. “This should not result in decreased funding at the local level for the provision of a free and appropriate public education for students with disabilities.”

Generally, school districts can only cut special education spending if there’s an actual decrease in expenses—say, if an experienced, highly paid special education teacher retires or a high-needs student leaves a district. Cutting the special education budget for almost any other reason means a district is running the risk of losing its share of federal funds. Districts have to restore spending to the amount before the cuts to get back in the good graces of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In June, the federal Department of Education gave districts a little wiggle room. A district “is not obligated to expend at least the amount expended in the last fiscal year for which it met the maintenance-of-effort requirement. In other words, each year’s [district] maintenance-of-effort obligation is based on the actual amount expended in the immediate prior fiscal year,” wrote Melody Musgrove, the director of the office of special education programs.

But Wisconsin school districts, noting the challenging economic times, asked for penalties to be waived for another reason: if a school district finds a more efficient way to manage its special education budget. The request came with a pledge.

“This change will not reduce the services being provided to children with disabilities and could allow for enhanced educational opportunities for every child,” the districts wrote. Collectively, the 45 districts in southeast Wisconsin represent 250,000 students.

But Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, managing attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin, said his organization has already heard from parents and others who say services for their children have been reduced. If a student worked with an aide last school year for example, his or her new education plan erases the need for an aide. In other cases, students are being placed in less-inclusive environments because a school doesn’t have all the staff it needs to make a more-inclusive environment work.

He said he understands that school districts are cash-strapped, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to continue upholding the law.

“When political decisions are made like the state of Wisconsin did, it has consequences,” Mr. Spitzer-Resnick said. “You’re still stuck with IDEA and maintenance of effort.”

Related Tags:

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

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


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.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
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.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
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.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education Opinion Inclusive Teachers Must Be 'Asset-Based Believers'
Four veteran educators share tips on supporting students with learning differences as they return to classrooms during this pandemic year.
16 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Special Education Opinion 20 Ways to Support Students With Learning Differences This Year
Embed student voices and perspectives into the classroom is one piece of advice educators offer in this third pandemic-affected school year.
16 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Special Education Schools Must Identify Students With Disabilities Despite Pandemic Hurdles, Ed. Dept. Says
Guidance stresses schools' responsibilities to those with disabilities, while noting that federal COVID aid can be used to address backlogs.
2 min read
School children in classroom with teacher, wearing face masks and raised hands
Special Education Attention Deficit Rates Skyrocket in High School. Mentoring Could Prevent an Academic Freefall
Twice as many students are diagnosed with ADHD in high school as in elementary school, yet their supports are fewer, a study says.
4 min read
Image of a child writing the letters "ADHD" on a chalkboard.