Rogers to Our Kids: You’re Excessive, Unnecessary, and Wasteful

Last week the Committee on Appropriations in the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled HR 1 – a bill to provide funding for the federal government for the balance of Fiscal 2011 (until Sept. 30th) – known as a “Continuing Resolution” or CR in Washington speak. The CR is necessary because Congress didn’t get around to passing Appropriations bills for FY 2011.

Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R – KY 5th District) stated that “The cuts in this CR are the result of difficult work by our subcommittees who have weeded out excessive, unnecessary, and wasteful spending, making tough choices to prioritize programs based on their effectiveness and benefit to the American people. My committee has taken a thoughtful look at each and every one of the programs we intend to cut, and have made determinations based on this careful analysis.”

HR 1 includes a substantial cut in the federal funding provided to local school districts to help offset the additional costs of providing special education and related services (as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – or IDEA) to the nation’s 5.9 million school-age students with disabilities. The cut of $557.7 million reduces IDEA federal funding to its 2008 level, which was less than half of the amount Congress committed to providing.

IDEA Money Watch overheard this (imaginary) conversation between Chairman Rogers (HR) and the nation’s 5.9 million students with disabilities (The Kids) shortly after release of HR 1:

The Kids: Mr. Chairman, we just received word that you plan to reduce the amount of money you send to schools to help provide our special education services. We couldn’t believe our ears, so we wanted to check with you to make sure this is actually true!

HR: Yes, kids, its true. My committee combed through the current spending – burned the midnight oil, in fact – to find excessive, unnecessary, and wasteful spending. As you kids may know, this country is spending 1.5 trillion dollars more than we have – so we had to make tough choices. Sorry, but you kids passed our test of “excessive, unnecessary, and wasteful spending.”

The Kids: But, Mr. Chairman, the Congress – the place where you work – promised to help pay for the extra services that we get so we can do just as well as all the other kids. We’re told that Congress has never sent the amount of money it promised – and now, you plan to cut it even more? And just how does money promised in our special education law – the IDEA – amount to “excessive, unnecessary, and wasteful?”

HR: Like I said, tough choices! We had to cut other education programs – like that Title I thing that provides extra help for poor kids. The economy stinks and the deficit is growing by leaps and bounds. You understand.

The Kids: So money for poor kids got cut, too? Guess what, many of us are also poor – so I guess that means we are getting double-cut? We heard that we need to “educate our way to a better economy” – you don’t seem to buy that?

HR: We can’t afford to help pay for the education of kids with disabilities — even if we did pass the law that requires all of the services you kids get. How much was your cut, anyway?

The Kids: It was lots – $557,700,000 (we think that’s about half a billion!). There are 5,882,157 of us, so your cut amounts to $94.81 for each one of us. And, as we said before, Congress promised to pay lots more than its been paying – like double the amount we’re told – to help pay for our special services. People talk about us all the time, they say we are too expensive, that schools need to take from general education to pay for our services because IDEA is an “unfunded mandate” – whatever that is – so this cut you are making will cause a real “PR” problem for us, if you know what we mean.

HR: Well, sorry, kiddos. You got put into the “excessive, unnecessary, and wasteful” pile – we aren’t responsible for your PR problem. Either suck it up or have your parents call their Congressman and tell them not to support our Committee’s recommendation to cut IDEA funding!

The Kids: Thanks for your time, Chairman Rogers. We are learning a valuable lesson in government relations! We guess this won’t be our last chat.

The FACTS: HR 1 cuts IDEA funding by $557.7 million for the balance of FY11, a reduction of 4.8%, bringing the annual appropriation back to the 2008 level of $10.9 billion. The IDEA authorized appropriation for 2008 was $19.2 billion. The authorized appropriation for 2011 was $26.1 billion. IDEA federal funding supports special education and related services for 5,882,157 school-age students with disabilities. Contact your member of Congress today.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: On February 17th the full House approved an amendment (#276) to HR 1 offered by Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R, Washington 5th) to restore the IDEA funding cut. Sadly, the amendment also offset the restoration to IDEA by cutting school improvement grants and teacher quality grants. The Kids and their parents are grateful for the efforts of McMorris Rodgers, but sad that other education programs were cut in the process! Watch McMorris Rodgers offer her amendment on the House floor.

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