House leaders request $1.5 billion increase for IDEA

April 30th, 2014

Washington, D.C.                                                                                  

Yesterday, April 29, 2014, Education Secretary Arne Duncan appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce to discuss the President’s FY 2015 Budget Request.  (See our earlier blog about the level of IDEA funding included in the President’s Budget.)

Duncan was peppered with questions regarding the persistent lack of funding for IDEA throughout the hearing. Following the hearing, Chairman Klein issued a press release stating that “Years ago the federal government pledged to provide critical support to special needs children, yet Republicans and Democrats alike have repeatedly failed to keep that promise. As I told Secretary Arne Duncan earlier today, parents and school leaders aren’t asking for new competitive grants or funding for duplicative early childhood programs – they’re begging for more support for the nation’s most vulnerable students. It’s time to reassess our priorities, and I am going to do everything in my power to advocate for a renewed federal commitment to children with disabilities.”

Klein and other Republican leaders issued a formal request for a $1.5 billion increase in IDEA Part B funding in the Fiscal Year 2015 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, bringing the total funding to $13 billion.

The Committee also issued the chart below, detailing the IDEA funding gap in every state, with this explanation:

The assumption underlying the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its predecessor legislation is that, on average, the cost of educating children with disabilities is twice the average cost (measured as the national average per pupil expenditure or APPE) of educating other children. Congress determined that the federal government would pay up to 40 percent of this “excess” cost, which is referred to as full funding. Since 1981, the first year for which full funding was 40 percent of APPE, the federal share has remained less than half of the federal commitment based on regular appropriations. As a result, states and school districts are forced to absorb the additional costs not funded by the federal government to meet the needs to which these students are legally entitled. In 2014 alone this cost is almost $17.6 billion. 

IDEA funding gap by state 2014

Feds issue guidance on use of IDEA funds for technology

February 11th, 2014

February 5, 2014

The U.S. Dept. of Education has released a document providing examples of how funds from ESEA (Titles I, II, III) and IDEA may be used to support the use of technology to improve instruction and student outcomes. Full document available here.

Examples provided include:

Expand the Use of Technology in the Individualized Education Program Process
States may use IDEA Part B set-aside funds to support the use of technology to help reduce paperwork and digitize the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process for families and teachers.

Use Technology to Communicate with Parents
States may use IDEA Part D State Professional Development Grants (SPDG) to enhance both special education and general education teachers’ ability to effectively integrate technology to communicate with parents of students with disabilities.

Provide Students with Assistive Technology Devices
States may use IDEA Part B funds set aside for State-level activities to support the use of assistive technology devices that maximize accessibility to the general education curriculum for students with disabilities.

Districts may use IDEA Part B funds to provide the specific assistive technology devices and services that are identified by the IEP team as needed by an individual student to receive free appropriate public education.

The document emphasizes that these “are just a few examples of allowable uses of grant program funds that may support the development, implementation, and expansion of technology-based approaches to help improve student achievement and educator effectiveness.”

New Mexico could lose more than $60M in special ed funding

February 1st, 2014

There’s a big mess brewing in the Land of Enchantment. And it could cost the state dearly in Federal funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

State auditor Hector Balderas, following a detailed audit of the NM Education Dept. (available here), directed the education dept. to provide details on why it failed to provide adequate state funding for special education in two consecutive years, in violation of the IDEA’s “maintenance of effort” or MOE requirements.

Under 34 CFR §300.163(a), “a State must not reduce the amount of State financial support for
special education and related services for children with disabilities, or otherwise made available
because of the excess costs of educating those children, below the amount of that support for the
preceding fiscal year.” If a State fails to maintain the required level of financial support for special education and related services, under 34 CFR §300.163(b); the Secretary of Education reduces the
allocation of funds under section 611 of the IDEA for any fiscal year following the fiscal year in
which the State fails to comply with the requirement of34 CFR §300.163(a) by the same amount
by which the State fails to meet the requirement. (Letter to states clarifying MOE)

IDEA authorizes very limited waivers to the State MOE requirement. The Secretary of Education may find that a waiver is equitable due to exceptional or uncontrollable circumstances such as a natural disaster (e.g., Hurricane Katrina) or precipitous and unforeseen decline in the financial resources of the state, or the State meets the exceptionally high standards for a waiver of the supplement not supplant requirement – i.e., an SEA can establish that a free appropriate public education is provided to all eligible children with disabilities in the State.  (This type of waiver has never been granted.) USED issued guidance on the process and criteria used to evaluate a request by states to waive maintenance of effort (MOE) requirements in 2009.


Balderas said his office wants to find out why the department didn’t comply and why it took so long to disclose what was happening.

The New Mexico Education Dept. requested a waiver (as allowed under IDEA) for two years – 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. In June 2013 the US Dept. of Ed informed New Mexico that it was granting the waiver for 2009-2010 but not for 2010-2011 hence the potential loss of funds.

According to a story in the Santa Fe New Mexico paper, New Mexico has appealed the denial of the waiver for 2010-2011. Lawyers from both sides will meet in Washington, D.C., on April 8 to lay out the legal groundwork.

Documents regarding New Mexico’s MOE waiver requests:

  • NM Waiver Request for 2010-2011
  • NM Waiver Request for 2009-2010
  • USED Response
  • State Audit Report


Advocate/Activist’s Call to Action!

November 13th, 2013

“Do you know what Sequestration is and what it is doing to your child’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education?  It is imperative that you do. 

As an advocate considered to have advanced training, I say the following.  Lay, Education, Parent Advocates (we have many names) cannot advocate on a child by child basis without being an activist and fighting/lobbying to change the state and federal, rules, laws, policies, appropriations and attitudes that have continued to set the very lowest bar of expectations for our nation’s children with disabilities. We need to be in the thick of discussions at our state and federal level and as Ghandi so eloquently once said, ‘Be the change you want to see….’

So where am I going with my soapbox?  I am urging  each and every individual who believes in America, and what it once was, and what it must be, to use your voice, pen, email and person to put an end to ‘sequestration’, and before the second round of sequester cuts take effect in January 2014.  Sequestration, these slash and burn cuts across all federally funded programs is not the way to balance our budget or educate America’s children, EACH and EVERY ONE.

So hop on the the “Sequester Circuit.” Become a valued resource to education staff writers at your local and statewide newspapers, along with National Public Radio affiliates. Your voice, pen and presence matter.”

Marcie Lipsitt
Michigan Alliance for Special Education

Listen to Marcie’s interview on Michigan NPR

New Report on Impact of Sequestration

November 13th, 2013

Under sequestration, federal funding for discretionary programs – including both defense and nondefense (called nondefense discretionary or NDD) – will face more than $700 billion in cuts over the next eight years.

In two years, NDD spending will equal a smaller percentage of our economy than ever before – if lawmakers do not act to replace sequestration with a more meaningful and comprehensive deficit reduction strategy.

The Advocacy Institute – sponsor of IDEA Money Watch – has joined with thousands of organizations to form NDD United and to create a new report on the impact of sequestration across programs that rely on discretionary federal funding, including federal funds to support the provision of special education services as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The report,
Faces of Austerity: How Budget Cuts Have Made Us Sicker, Poorer, and Less Secure

is available at NDD United.

Now, here’s what YOU can do:

Contact your members of Congress (two Senators, one House member) and tell them to put an end to sequestration and avoid any cuts to federal funds for IDEA.

Use Contacting the Congress to locate the contact information for your members and send your messages.

Our nation’s 6 million students with disabilities are counting on you!

ED Proposes Amendments to IDEA MOE Rules

September 19th, 2013

U.S. Dept. of Education (USED)
Proposed amendments to IDEA Part B federal regulations
regarding local maintenance of effort

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
Federal Register/Vo. 78, No. 181
September 18, 2013

Comments due on or before December 10, 2013
Submit comments via
Docket ID ED-2012-OSERS-0020

Purpose: To clarify existing policy and make other related changes regarding:

  • The compliance standard;
  • the eligibility standard;
  • the level of effort required of a local educational agency (LEA) in the year after it fails to maintain effort under the IDEA;
  • the consequence for a failure to maintain local effort.

Comments sought regarding:

  • Whether States and LEAs or other interested parties think these proposed amendments will be helpful in increasing understanding of, and ensuring compliance with, the current local maintenance of effort requirements.
  • The specific problems States and LEAs are experiencing in implementing the maintenance of effort requirements.

In proposing these amendments, USED reports that it has identified a number of problems with State administration of the LEA MOE requirements under current IDEA regulations. Specifically, USED has found that at least 40 percent of States have policies and procedures that are not consistent with how States should determine eligibility or compliance. These State polices could be either more restrictive or more lenient than current regulation.

Summary of proposed amendments:

  1. Expands the compliance standard by adding an LEA MOE requirement that States must apply when determining whether an LEA is eligible for Part B funds each year.Specifically, an LEA must budget at least the same total or per capita amount of local, or State and local, fund as it spent during the most recent prior year.Or, if using only local funds, an LEA must meet in total or per capita the same level of local funds for the most recent fiscal year for which the LEA met its MOE based on local funds only.Clarifies that Federal funds may not be considered in determining whether an LEA meets the standard.(Note: As explained in The Basics on maintenance of effort, LEAs may reduce level of expenditures under certain circumstances. The extra funds paid to LEAs via the Recovery Act allowed for a reduction in local funds under certain circumstances. State and LEA level reductions taken are available here.)
  2. Expands the eligibility standard by clearly establishing that if an LEA fails to meet its MOE requirement for any fiscal year, the level of funding required for any subsequent year (beginning or or after July 1, 2014) is the amount that would have been required in the absence of that failure – not the LEA’s reduced level of expenditures. (As stated in Letter to Boundy)
  3. Expands the consequences of failure to maintain effort by clearing establishing that if an LEA fails to maintain its level of expenditures in accordance with the compliance standard, the State is liable to return (using non-Federal funds) to the U.S. Dept. of Education an amount equal to the amount by which the LEA failed to maintain its level. (In such circumstances, the State may, in turn, seek to recoup the funds from the LEA.)


thumbs upIDEA Money Watch supports these proposed regulations. You are urged to submit comments in support of the proposal via by Dec. 10, 2013.

Here’s how: Go to the docket on Click on the blue “Comment Now!” button in the upper right of the page. Fill in your comments (paste the suggested comments below/add more/compile your own), fill in additional information requested, click “Continue,” preview your comment then submit.

Suggested comments for submission to

“I support the proposed amendments to IDEA Part B federal regulations regarding local maintenance of effort. As proposed, these amendments will provide several important clarifications to current regulations and will serve to ensure improved compliance with federal requirements. Additionally, these amendments will provide important clarification to situations not currently addressed in regulation, avoiding future misinterpretations.”

More extensive comments are available here.

A comparison of current regulation and these proposed regulations is available here.



IDEA Sequester Reductions :: State-by-State

February 28th, 2013

IDEA sequestration cuts

Source: State-by-State IDEA Impact retrieved from

Senate Appropriations Committee gives IDEA funding a boost; reinforces MOE requirement

June 14th, 2012

The Labor, HHS, Education Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Appropriations voted Tuesday, June 12, 2012, to provide additional funding for the IDEA and other programs that go to assisting children with disabilities.

The bill was approved by the full Appropriations Committee on June 14, 2012.

Thumbs UpThe Labor, HHS, Education appropriations bill also includes “new language clarifying that the level of effort under part B that an LEA must meet in the year after it fails to maintain its fiscal effort is the level that it should have met in the prior year. This language clarifies congressional intent and is consistent with OSEP’s April 4, 2012, informal guidance letter on the issue.”  (Page 179 of bill text)

A summary of the increases proposed in the bill is below.

Education for Individuals With Disabilities (IDEA).—The bill provides $11.678 billion, an increase of $100 million, under section 611 of part B grants to States for educating students with disabilities between the age of 3 and 21.

The bill also includes $463 million, an increase of $20 million, to support statewide systems of coordinated and early intervention services for children with disabilities two years old and younger, as well as their families. (Part C of IDEA)

Promoting School Readiness for Minors in SSI (PROMISE).—In fiscal year 2012, Congress created PROMISE, an interagency effort to improve outcomes for children, and the families of children, receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. This program will encourage State-level innovations that can help young people with disabilities enter and succeed in competitive, integrated employment. The bill includes nearly $12 million and the authority to allocate unspent vocational rehabilitation State grant funds within the Department of Education for this effort, in addition to $7.2 million at SSA.NCSER funding

Special Education Research.—The bill includes $59.9 million, an increase of $10 million, to support research on how children and adults with disabilities learn and how best to meet their learning needs. (This increase restores half of the cut made to Special Education Research (NCSER) in 2011 – see chart at right.)

Assistive Technology.—The bill provides $37.5 million, an increase of $4.7 million, for State assistive technology programs. These programs support a range of activities to serve people with disabilities, including State financing programs, device reutilization and loan programs, and device demonstrations.


Bill summary:

Bill text:

US ED reverses position on maintenance of effort

April 4th, 2012

Letter to BoundyFor Immediate Release
April 4, 2012

Today the U.S. Department of Education (USED) issued a letter to the Center for Law and Education (CLE) regarding the local maintenance of effort requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In the letter, USED informs CLE that it is withdrawing its Letter to East of June 16, 2011.

IDEA Money Watch first reported on this issue back in August of 2011. The Center for Law and Education – our legal collaborator – issued a response to the Letter to East, explaining why the USED interpretation was inaccurate. Following that, parents and advocates across the nation went to work – sending letters to both USED and members of Congress asking for a re-examination of the legal interpretation put forward in Letter to East.

We are overjoyed that those efforts paid off. Thanks to everyone who worked hard to make this happen!

Candace Cortiella
Candace at

Kathleen B. Boundy, Esq.
Kboundy at

Obama ignores special ed, again…

February 13th, 2012

Today President Obama released his budget request for FY 2013. The request for the U.S. Department of Education is $69.8 billion. Most programs – including funds to support local school district with the excess cost of special education (IDEA, Part B) are funded at the same level as the previous year (FY2012).

So what does this mean for special education? It means that President Obama (presumably based on the recommendation of his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan) feels that IDEA doesn’t deserve the amount of federal funding promised to it in IDEA.

The IDEA authorized federal funding in the amount of 40% of the excess cost of special education, based on the Annual Per Pupil Expenditure or APPE. During his campaign, Obama pledged to support “full funding” for IDEA. He put it this way:

Fully Funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Barack Obama has been a strong and consistent advocate for fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Congress promised to shoulder 40 percent of each state’s “excess cost” of educating children with disabilities, but it has never lived up to this obligation. Currently, the federal government provides less than half of the promised funding (17 percent). Children are being shortchanged, and their parents are forced to fight with cash-strapped school districts to get the free and appropriate education the IDEA promises their children. Fully funding IDEA will provide students with disabilities the public education they have a right to, and school districts will be able to provide services without cutting into their general education budgets. In addition to fully funding IDEA, Barack Obama and Joe Biden will ensure effective implementation and enforcement of the Act.”

Source: Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s Plan To Empower Americans With Disabilities

Yet the President’s FY2013 budget request seeks an IDEA Part B funding level that will provide approximately 16% of the excess cost – not 40%. The budget request estimates that this would provide $1,72 per child for an estimated 6.6 million students with disabilities.

Find out how much your state will (or won’t) get in 2013 here. (PDF)

Bottom Line

Advocates for full funding of IDEA should give up on President Obama. It is clear that his administration cares more about competitive initiatives like Race to the Top than keeping a promise to fully fund IDEA.

So, lets get ready to hear continued criticism about the cost of special education to local school districts.

No hope, no change.

Grants to States
State or Other Area 2011 Actual 2012 Estimate 2013 Estimate Change from 2012 Estimate
Alabama 179,981,063 181,561,826 181,566,991 5,165
Alaska 36,063,773 36,471,208 36,472,320 1,112
Arizona 183,462,799 188,005,122 188,010,939 5,817
Arkansas 111,004,304 111,979,248 111,982,511 3,263
California 1,213,998,591 1,224,661,067 1,224,697,480 36,413
Colorado 152,891,940 154,234,781 154,239,478 4,697
Connecticut 131,612,076 132,768,017 132,771,675 3,658
Delaware 33,614,205 34,446,453 34,447,519 1,066
District of Columbia 16,901,322 17,319,779 17,320,315 536
Florida 625,657,364 631,152,474 631,170,487 18,013
Georgia 322,524,945 328,077,842 328,087,956 10,114
Hawaii 39,504,872 39,851,841 39,853,020 1,179
Idaho 54,740,479 55,221,261 55,222,921 1,660
Illinois 501,248,821 505,651,259 505,665,544 14,285
Indiana 255,333,586 257,576,165 257,583,335 7,170
Iowa 120,849,314 121,910,726 121,914,069 3,343
Kansas 105,763,719 106,692,635 106,695,678 3,043
Kentucky 156,513,462 157,888,110 157,892,564 4,454
Louisiana 187,317,380 188,962,577 188,968,227 5,650
Maine 54,165,727 54,641,461 54,642,959 1,498
Maryland 198,176,263 199,916,833 199,922,464 5,631
Massachusetts 280,997,908 283,465,895 283,473,669 7,774
Michigan 396,402,364 399,883,942 399,895,690 11,748
Minnesota 187,882,322 189,532,481 189,537,810 5,329
Mississippi 118,935,556 119,980,160 119,983,708 3,548
Missouri 224,855,045 226,829,933 226,836,168 6,235
Montana 36,814,020 37,221,455 37,222,567 1,112
Nebraska 73,914,997 74,564,188 74,566,233 2,045
Nevada 68,994,755 70,702,984 70,705,172 2,188
New Hampshire 46,976,599 47,389,192 47,390,494 1,302
New Jersey 357,803,082 360,945,645 360,955,543 9,898
New Mexico 90,213,359 91,005,697 91,008,220 2,523
New York 751,403,381 758,002,911 758,023,986 21,075
North Carolina 323,238,888 326,077,875 326,087,594 9,719
North Dakota 27,294,331 27,970,106 27,970,971 865
Ohio 433,153,992 436,958,357 436,971,107 12,750
Oklahoma 146,388,454 147,674,175 147,678,405 4,230
Oregon 127,639,189 128,760,236 128,763,928 3,692
Pennsylvania 422,715,133 426,427,814 426,440,201 12,387
Rhode Island 43,287,960 43,668,156 43,669,354 1,198
South Carolina 175,288,806 176,828,357 176,833,330 4,973
South Dakota 32,514,649 33,319,673 33,320,704 1,031
Tennessee 234,411,003 236,469,821 236,476,603 6,782
Texas 972,140,502 980,678,753 980,708,315 29,562
Utah 108,500,873 109,453,830 109,457,116 3,286
Vermont 26,316,947 26,968,524 26,969,358 834
Virginia 279,025,194 281,475,855 281,483,895 8,040
Washington 219,029,685 220,953,409 220,959,927 6,518
West Virginia 75,177,002 75,837,277 75,839,357 2,080
Wisconsin 206,053,221 207,862,974 207,868,824 5,850
Wyoming 27,609,085 28,292,653 28,293,528 875
American Samoa 6,297,058 6,358,510 6,297,058 (61,452)
Guam 13,962,402 14,098,659 13,962,402 (136,257)
Northern Mariana Islands 4,785,135 4,831,832 4,785,135 (46,697)
Puerto Rico 112,146,753 114,923,374 114,926,930 3,556
Virgin Islands 8,874,264 8,960,866 8,874,264 (86,602)
Freely Associated States 6,579,306 6,579,306 6,579,306 0
Indian set-aside 92,011,750 92,909,676 92,909,676 0
Other (non-State allocations) 25,000,000 25,000,000 25,000,000 0
Total 11,465,960,975 11,577,855,236 11,577,855,000 (236)

Can You Say “Sequestration?”

January 31st, 2012

All together now!


Sequestration is a fiscal policy procedure adopted by Congress to deal with the federal budget deficit. (Learn more here.)

Sequestration was triggered when the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka the Super Committee)  failed to reach an agreement on a ten-year, $ 1.2 trillion deficit reduction bill. It was all part of the debt ceiling agreement that Congress passed in August of 2011.

Under sequestration, education funding will be subject to cuts ranging from 9.1% (in 2013) to 5.5% (in 2021).

For IDEA, this means a reduction of $$1,053,600,000 in 2013. Other education programs also will get hit hard…Title I will lose $1.1 billion,  $590 million for Head Start — both of these programs serve students with disabilities in addition to IDEA.

A $1.1 billion reduction in IDEA federal funds in 2013 will put the federal contribution toward the cost of special education back to its 2005 level.

This sharp decline in IDEA federal funding will force school districts to either reduce services beyond what is needed to provide a free appropriate public education to students with disabilities or supplement the shortfall with local funds—something unlikely to happen given continuing effects of the recession and the “lag time” between economic recovery in general and the effects, particularly in revenue, felt by state and local governments.

Learn more:

FAQ: Sequestration and IDEA
State-by-state Sequestration Calculator

IDEA Gets $129 Million Haircut in Continuing Resolution

October 29th, 2011

As in almost all recent years, the U.S. Congress has again failed to accomplish its only annual responsibility: passing a series of 13 appropriations bills to keep federal departments and agencies operating. So, in order to keep the government running (remember all of those shut-down threats?) Congress uses a vehicle known as a “continuing resolution” or “CR,” a temporary appropriations act. The Congress has passed two CRs since federal fiscal 2012 began on October 1, 2011.

A funny thing happened in the last CR (P.L. 112-36), that funds the government through November 18, 2011. Its HR 112-36 and it contains a 1.503 percent across-the-board cut for all programs (unless otherwise exempted).

As pointed out in a letter to Congress from the Committee on Education Funding:

Since most education programs are forward funded, and thus states and school districts won’t receive their FY 12 allocation of funds until July 2012, this 1.5 percent cut appeared to have little impact on education programs at this time.

However, Section 115 of the CR states, “During the period covered by this Act, discretionary amounts appropriated for fiscal year 2012 that were provided in advance by appropriations Acts shall be available in the amounts provided in such Acts, reduced by the percentage in section 101(b).”

Because the previous year’s FY 11 CR provided advanced appropriations for four education programs that became available on October 1, 2011, the Department of Education and the Office of Management and Budget have interpreted this language such that funds from the FY 11 advanced appropriations that were allocated to states in October were cut by 1.503%. This resulted in a sudden and immediate loss of $329 million in 2011-12 school-year funds with little advance notice to states and schools.

The four programs affected and the cut to each are:

• Title I grants to LEAs = $163 million
• Title II Teacher Quality State Grants = $25 million
IDEA Section 611 grants to states = $129 million
• Career and Technical Education State grants = $12 million

These unanticipated, and we believe unintended cuts, come on top of education cuts that were included in the FY 11 CR. As you know all education programs, including these four, were cut by 0.2% below FY 10 levels. In addition, Title II was cut by a total of $480 million (-16.3%) and Career and Technical Education was cut by $140 million (-11%).

The Department of Education has stated that the 1.5% cut is a full-year cut in the advanced appropriated funds available for the 2011-12 school year and would not be restored even if the final FY 12 appropriations bill level funds any of these programs at their FY 11 level.

These new cuts, which were completely unanticipated by states and schools, will cause further undesirable reductions in services for students at a time when states, schools and students are literally reeling from unprecedented and harmful state and local budget cuts.

Read the full letter here.

IDEA Money Watch urges you to contact your Member of the U.S. Congress and your two U.S. Senators to express your concern for this indiscriminate reduction to IDEA federal funding. This reduction is particularly acute given the recent informal guidance put out by US ED offering a new interpretation of IDEA’s maintenance of effort (MOE) requirements and the $1.4 billion MOE reductions taken by school districts in 2009 due to the IDEA Recovery Act funds, which are now gone!

State-by-state data on LEA MOE reductions and CEIS use

July 17th, 2011

Here you will find the information submitted by state departments of education to the U.S. Dept. of Education regarding reduction to local spending (maintenance of effort or MOE) and use of federal IDEA funds for Coordinated Early Intervening Services (CEIS) for each school district for the 2009 fiscal year. Nationwide, local school districts (LEAs) reduced spending on special education by $1.5 billion in 2009.

This information is important because it indicates if school districts reduced local spending in light of IDEA Recovery Act funds in FY 2009. IDEA does not require that local districts replace these funds when the Recovery funds run out, putting services for students with disabilities at risk.

Get Understanding Table 8 (PDF, 3 pages)

Get state-level Table 8 data (PDF, 3 pages)

Get MOE reductions in the nation’s 100 largest school districts (PDF, 3 pages)

Get LEA Table 8 data by state (PDF) via links below (Total LEA MOE reductions appear after each state)

ALABAMA (AL) ($28.2 million)


ARKANSAS (AR) ($8.6 million)

ARIZONA (AZ) ($27.4 million)

CALIFORNIA (CA) ($336.2 million)

COLORADO (CO) ($6.8 million)

CONNECTICUT (CT) ($18.0 million)



FLORIDA (FL) ($175.2 million)

GEORGIA (GA) ($105.0 million)

HAWAII (HI) ($20.8 million)

IDAHO (ID) ($13.8 million)

ILLINOIS (IL) ($87.9 million)

INDIANA (IN) ($15.1 million)

IOWA (IA) ($52.3 million)

KANSAS (KS) ($7.1 million)

KENTUCKY (KY) ($27.2 million)


MAINE (ME) (0)


MASSACHUSETTS (MA) ($.1 million)

MICHIGAN (MI) ($53.6 million)



MISSOURI (MO) ($56.1 million)


NEBRASKA (NE) ($.2 million)

NEW HAMPSHIRE (NH) ($1.5 million)

NEW JERSEY (NJ) ($40.2 million)

NEW MEXICO (NM) ($5.4 million)

NEW YORK (NY) ($.2 million)

NEVADA (NV) ($5.9 million)

NORTH CAROLINA (NC) ($12.8 million)

NORTH DAKOTA (ND) ($1 million)

OHIO (OH) ($49.6 million)

OKLAHOMA (OK) ($.9 million)

OREGON (OR) ($9.7 million)

PENNSYLVANIA (PA) ( $55.6 million)


SOUTH CAROLINA (SC) ( $.9 million)

SOUTH DAKOTA (SD) ($8.0 million)

TENNESSEE (TN) ($26.8 million)

TEXAS (TX) ($25.4 million)

UTAH (UT) ($6.3 million)


VIRGINIA (VA) ($38.7 million)

WASHINGTON (WA) ($49.1 million)

WEST VIRGINIA (WV) ($11.3 million)

WISCONSIN (WI) ($20.4 million)


IDEA Money Watch responds to “Something Has Got to Change”

June 16th, 2011

June 14, 2011

On Tuesday the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) released “Something Has Got to Change: Rethinking Special Education,” a paper that examines special education spending and seeks to offer  practical solutions to “tame out-of-control special education spending while serving special-needs students better.”  AEI also provided a teleconference during which the paper’s author, Nathan Levenson, presented a brief overview and responded to questions.

There’s stuff to like in Levenson’s paper. Mainly, we think special education spending–along with the policies that control it–needs and deserves close examination and dialogue to spur change. Special education can’t continue as the “third rail” of education. This deeply entrenched “hands-off” policy serves neither students nor taxpayers. Meanwhile, we want to ensure that facts presented in such discussions are correct. So here’s a quick review of Levenson’s points that either hit or miss the mark…

LEVENSON: “As a nation, special education spending has risen from 4 percent to 21 percent of total school spending from 1970 to 2005.”

IDEA Money Watch: It’s rather unfair to look at special education spending pre/post the enactment of the federal special education law, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The driving purpose of the law was to end the exclusion of students with disabilities from public education. A congressional investigation in 1972, following two landmark court cases (PARC v. Commonwealth of PA and Mills v. Board of Education of District of Columbia) found that of the more than 8 million children with disabilities requiring special education, only 3.9 million were receiving an appropriate education, 1.75 million were receiving no educational serves at all, and 2.5 million were receiving an inappropriate education. A contrast between either the number of students served by special education or the amount of money spent to serve them that reaches back to before enactment of federal legislation is both useless and misleading.

We had to poke around to find the source of the claim that special education accounted for 21 percent of total school spending in 2005. Levenson’s paper references an Education Week blog about a conference on Improving Productivity in Public Education and, specifically, a presentation by Karen Hawley Miles of Education Resource Strategies – none of which tells us the source of the information.

We do know that the U.S. Dept. of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) does not collect data on special education spending per se. Reports issued by NCES on revenues and expenditures for public elementary and secondary education do not break out expenditures for general and special education.

That leaves us reliant on surveys and special studies. One such survey from the Economic Policy Institute, Where Has the Money Been Going (October 2010), relies on data from nine school districts. The EPI report found that the average annual real growth in per-pupil spending from 1996-2005 was 4.5% for special education vs. 2.4% for regular education (Table 10). During that same period, 53% of net new money was spent on academic classroom programs while 41% was spent on special education (Table 11). In 2005, 21% of district spending in the nine districts, on average, went to special education (Table 16). This appears to be the source for the claim in Levenson’s paper. But this is not a national figure, only an average of data from nine districts, ranging from 15% to 23%.

Another source of information on special education expenditures comes from the Special Education Expenditure Project (SEEP).  Funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education, SEEP reports are based on analyses of extensive data for the 1999-2000 school year. The SEEP report, “What are we spending on special education services in the U.S.?“, found that total regular and special education expenditure for educating students with disabilities represents over 21 percent of the 1999-2000 spending on all elementary and secondary educational services in the U.S. The total expenditure to educate the average student with disabilities was an estimated 1.90 times that expended to educate the typical regular education student with no special needs (down from 1985, when it was estimated by Moore et al. (1988) to be 2.28.)

LEVENSON: “The number of students with the more costly severe disabilities is growing fast. The number of students with three of the four most common severe disabilities—health impairments, autism, and developmental delay—are all increasing by double digits each year across the country. The number of students with mild disabilities is also increasing slightly each year. The number of students with moderate disabilities is growing more slowly, but it is still growing.”

IDEA Money Watch: Actually, the number of students ages 6-21 eligible for special education services has declined every year since 2004 – down 4% between 2004 and 2009, according to data collected by the U.S. Dept. of Education. As our chart here indicates, some categories, like specific learning disabilities, which accounts for almost half of all special education students, has declined by 12.4% since 2004.  This is a pretty simple fact to get right. IDEA requires an annual count of students receiving special education; it’s available at

Equally wrong is Levenson’s characterization of “health impairments (OHI), autism, and developmental delay as “severe disabilities.” The category of OHI is made up largely of students with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), particularly since a change to federal regulations in 1999 made ADHD expressly part of the OHI category. Autism – a disability showing explosive growth nationwide – is not necessarily “severe” in all students found eligible in this category. Developmental Delay – added in 1997 – is an optional category available to states only for children through age 9. It allows young children to be served under IDEA without being assigned a specific disability designation. Fifteen states don’t use the Developmental Delay category at all (AR, CA, CO, CT, FL, IN, IA, MT, NJ, NY, OH, OR, SD, TX, and WV). So, the growth in this category is technically not growth at all, but rather a shift in how schools designate children ages 6-9 in some states. Simply put, if this category didn’t exist, students would be assigned to one of the other IDEA disability categories (as they are in those 15 states not using the category).

LEVENSON: “The lackluster results for students with special needs are not from lack of effort; school districts are spending an increasing percentage of their total budget on special education.”

IDEA Money Watch: Let’s not equate spending with effort. As Levenson correctly points out, students with special needs have fared poorly academically even in the best of financial times. Parents often wonder what all that money is providing their student. Sometimes we even speculate that special education costs are overstated by districts because they can use the “federal mandate” argument to defend any amount of spending.

However, by any large-scale measure, students with disabilities are performing poorly despite the enormous amount of funds that schools claim to be spending. For example, on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) only 38% of students with disabilities were at or above the ‘basic’ level (defined as partial mastery of the knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at a given grade) in 8th grade reading compared to 79% of students without disabilities (lots more about NAEP and students with disabilities).

Another look at academic performance of students with disabilities is provided by the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2. This large-scale study found that significant numbers of students in all disability categories function far below grade level in reading and math (details here), raising serious questions about how these students can master high school course requirements to earn a regular diploma. The NLTS2 also found that the correlation between grades and academic functioning is nearly zero – indicating that students and parents are being seriously mislead with regard to real academic achievement.

Yet we also know that despite the money supposedly being spent, many students with disabilities aren’t receiving the support and specialized instruction that is needed to ensure their success. This is particularly true in the area of assistive technology (AT). Anecdotal evidence suggests that only 3-5% of students with disabilities have assistive technology written on the IEP despite the IDEA requirement that the need for AT be considered as part of the development of every student’s IEP. This problem is so acute that the U.S. Dept. of Education put funding of AT at the top of its list of suggested ways that district might spend the extra IDEA funds provided by the Recovery Act.

Levenson asserts that ”to raise the achievement of students with special needs, only three things matter—reading, reading, and reading” to which we respond – yes, yes, yes. Reading failure is the reason many students land in special education. Sadly, once there, many remain serious underachievers in this critical skill despite the “specially designed instruction” they are entitled to receive (evidenced by the NLTS2 finding mentioned above).

As Levenson points out, the key elements of reading instruction, as identified by the National Reading Panel, are rarely followed. Worse yet, a 2006 study by the National Council on Teacher Quality found that only 11 out of 72 education schools (15 percent) surveyed were found to actually teach all the components of the science of reading. Bottom line: the majority of teachers aren’t being taught the essential components of reading discovered through millions of dollars in federal research. Yet, as Dr. Louisa Moats pointed out in a 1999 report for the American Federation of Teachers, the difficulty of teaching reading has been underestimated: it is, in fact, rocket science!

LEVENSON: By vesting more responsibility for special needs kids in the hands of general educators, especially content expert educators, schools can save funds while putting kids in front of the best trained teachers.”

IDEA Money Watch: Here again we say yes, yes, yes. We also note that in many ways Skrtic was right when he posited (in 1991) that “the very existence of special education as a field has reduced the motivation of regular education teachers to be innovative, because special education removes from general education the children who might create the need for change.”

Worse yet (and this is a BIGGIE for us!), the academic achievement of students with disabilities plays no role in the monitoring and compliance activities of the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). To our dismay, we found that the “performance” indicators of the State Performance Plans are not part of the annual determination of a state’s implementation of IDEA, and, in turn, the states don’t consider the performance of students with disabilities in determining the rating of its local school districts. We’ve challenged the department’s legal authority in this area and consider it a significant barrier to raising the academic achievement of students with disabilities. OSEP’s current approach to monitoring ensures a complete focus on paper compliance and ignores academic achievement.

Still, improving teacher effectiveness was also a top recommendation for use of IDEA Recovery Act funds. In its guidance, U.S. ED states “Given that most students with disabilities are in the regular classroom and are taught by general education teachers most of the day, recruiting highly qualified general education teachers and providing ongoing professional development for general classroom teachers to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to teach these students effectively, as well as equipping special education teachers with core academic content knowledge, is essential.” The extent to which IDEA Recovery Act funds have been used to this end is hard to determine.

We remind Levenson that the Highly Qualified Teacher provisions dealing with special educators are found in IDEA, not NCLB. In fact, IDEA requires that special education teachers who teach multiple subjects exclusively to children with disabilities demonstrate competence in all the academic subjects in which they teach. Whether this is happening in practice is another issue, we quickly admit.




While not mentioned in Levenson’s paper, the Recovery Act has pumped $11.3 billion into special education between 2009 and 2011. Intended to improve results for students with disabilities, Recovery Act funds are well on the way to being totally expended – as of June 10, 2011, more than $9 billion has been obligated.

Some districts have used Recovery Act funds to study the efficiencies of special education spending. Others have elected to simply hire additional staff that now must be cut as the Recovery Act funds run out.

Levenson’s descriptions of increased achievement in a few districts clearly show that leaders at the local level can change what’s being done without changes in federal laws. Sadly, few actually take on the challenge.

See also:

No Harm No Foul? No Way …

April 13th, 2011

The IDEA Part B Grants to States federal funding for FY 2011 dodged a bullet last week. When the final “Continuing Resolution (CR)” was hammered out in the U.S. Congress (the one that prevented the dreaded government shutdown), IDEA funding remained mainly in tact – providing essentially the same level of funding for FY 2011 as FY 2010 – $11.5 billion (a slight  reduction of $23 million resulting from a .2% across-the-board cut)*. So, should we be grateful for not being slashed, despite the fact that the initial proposal (H.R. 1, which we reported in an earlier blog post) contained a reduction of $557.7 million for IDEA grants to states? Remember, we dodged that bullet only by the good graces of Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R, Washington 5th), who offered an amendment to restore the IDEA funding cut. And, the final amount for FY 2011 still leaves a IDEA “funding gap” the size of Texas – the difference between what is promised in IDEA (called “full funding”, explained in this blog post) and what is actually appropriated by Congress (see chart below).

IDEA appropriations chart

Source: New America Foundation

UP NEXT: the debate over the FY 2012 budget, when, as one member of Congress put it, “we’ll be playing with real bullets.” The federal budget process goes something like this:

  • The President submits a proposed budget to Congress. That happened back in February. The proposed budget requests $200 million more for federal funding of the IDEA – a meager increase in the face of a funding shortfall that measures some $15 billion.
  • The Budget Committees of the House and the Senate release a budget resolution. Once complete, the budget resolutions go to the House and Senate floors, where they can be amended (by a majority vote). A House-Senate conference then resolves any differences, and a conference report is passed by both houses.
  • The Appropriations Committees of the House and the Senate divvy up the amount specified in the Budget Resolution to produce Appropriations bills laying out the funding across agencies.

Technically, all of this is suppose to happen by the time the fiscal year begins on October 1, 2011. If not, more CRs will be required to keep the government up and running.

What does all of this mean for supporters of IDEA federal funding to help local school districts provide special education and related services to students with disabilities? If the President’s budget request is the high-water mark for IDEA funding in FY 2012 – which it is likely to be – than the funding gap will persist. An estimated amount of the funding gap for each state (based on the FY 2010 level of Federal funding) – appears below.

IDEA funding gap by state

*A listing of all education programs impacted by the final FY 2011 CR is available here.

Promises, promises …

March 2nd, 2011

President Obama released his proposed budget for FY 2012 on February 14, 2011. But long before that, Candidate Obama made this commitment if elected :

Fully Funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Barack Obama has been a strong and consistent advocate for fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Congress promised to shoulder 40 percent of each state’s “excess cost” of educating children with disabilities, but it has never lived up to this obligation. Currently, the federal government provides less than half of the promised funding (17 percent). Children are being shortchanged, and their parents are forced to fight with cash-strapped school districts to get the free and appropriate education the IDEA promises their children. Fully funding IDEA will provide students with disabilities the public education they have a right to, and school districts will be able to provide services without cutting into their general education budgets. In addition to fully funding IDEA, Barack Obama and Joe Biden will ensure effective implementation and enforcement of the Act.”

Source: Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s Plan To Empower Americans With Disabilities

So much for promises. Obama’s proposed budget provides just $200 million more for federal funding of the IDEA – a meager increase in the face of a funding shortfall that measures some $14 billion. As the chart below shows, the IDEA Part B (grants to states) appropriation is so far off the mark for “Full funding” that it doesn’t even equal HALF of the promised amount.

IDEA funding chart

Source: New America Foundation

So what, exactly, is “full funding” of IDEA? The term is misleading, and, therefore, the funding “promise” made by Congress in IDEA is often misrepresented. Its really pretty simple, however. Back in 1975 when Congress enacted original special education law – then called the Education of All Handicapped Children Act and later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Congress set a maximum target for the federal contribution to special education spending equal to 40 percent of the estimated excess cost of educating children with disabilities. At the time, Congress estimated that educating children with disabilities would cost approximately twice as much as it costs to educate non-disabled children. So, Congress committed to providing 40% of the excess cost of providing special education (not 100% as is often reported), and set the federal contribution at 40% of the average per pupil expenditure (APPE) nationwide. (Note: One nationwide study showed that special education costs are 1.9 times that expended on general education students.)

So then, if IDEA were “fully funded,” the annual federal appropriation would be 40% of the national average per pupil expenditure – referred to as “APPE” – for elementary and secondary education times the number of children with disabilities served. To be clear, when sent off to local school districts around the country, that amount would not be 40% of the excess cost in every district – the percent would vary depending on how much each local district spends on education. The amount districts spend “per pupil” varies significantly across the nation! (To find out your state’s IDEA funding gap, get your State Special Education Scorecard at

The Bottom Line

The possibility of achieving “full funding” of IDEA anytime in the near (or far) future seems extremely remote. The appropriators in Congress don’t seem to understand that this is a commitment to help offset the local districts’ expense of providing special education to eligible students with disabilities – not a  program designed to boost student achievement,  like so many of the programs funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education. In fact, contrary to the statement released with the President’s budget request, this $200 million increase will NOT “help to improve the quality of the education students with disabilities receive so they can participate in the general education curriculum to the maximum extent possible and are prepared for college and a career, or both.” Bottom line, this is really a “cost sharing” deal where one party isn’t keeping its end of the deal.

The President’s FY2012 proposed budget shows that he has no intention of keeping his campaign promise. And the upcoming Congressional debate  will likely show, once again, that the Congress also has no intention of keeping its promise.

Show Us the Waivers!

June 8th, 2010

We’ve learned that States have begun to submit requests to the U.S. Dept. of Education (USED) for waivers to reduce state financial support toward the excess costs of special education to local school districts. According to information obtained from the USED, the states of Kansas and Iowa have requested waivers and gained approval. The state of South Carolina has made a request with no decision so far.

Maintenance of state financial support – or MOE – is a requirement of IDEA – one of the conditions for States to receive federal IDEA funds. However, the IDEA gives the Secretary of Education the authority to waive the waive the MOE requirement due to exceptional or uncontrollable circumstances. Requests must be made based on “exceptional or uncontrollable circumstances such as a natural disaster or a precipitous and unforeseen decline in the financial resources of the State” says IDEA. (Text of statute here.)

IDEA Money Watch partner, the Center for Law and Education, submitted a request for information to USED asking for the following:

– All requests for a waiver of the “Maintenance of State Financial Support” requirement submitted by any State during FY 2010 pursuant to 20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(18)(C) and 34 C.F.R. § 300.163(c). Under these provisions a State may seek a waiver of the requirement of 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(18)(A) not to reduce the amount of State financial support for special education and related services for eligible children under IDEA Part B below the amount of that support for the preceding fiscal year.

– All responses of the U.S. Department of Education to each request for such a waiver submitted by any State. The Secretary may waive the “Maintenance of State Financial Support” requirement for a State, for 1 fiscal year at a time, if the Secretary determines that granting a waiver would be equitable due to exceptional or uncontrollable circumstances. 20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(18)(C)(i).

We’re still waiting for information from USED. And we’re disappointed in the federal government’s lack of transparency regarding this important issue. Seems like such information should be released to the public – both by the state requesting the waiver and by USED.

The Bottom Line

We suspect that this is only the beginning of these requests. According to a new report from the National Governors Association, “States face significant fiscal challenges going forward with the federal Recovery Act funds ending, revenues not expected to be returning to pre-recession levels, and higher demands for many services like health and education.”

As we explained in our Budget Dust and Double Trouble blog, there’s nothing coming down the pike to help local districts, many of whom have reduced their local spending on special education because of IDEA Recovery Act funds. Now, if States reduce their support of special education costs, maybe we’re headed for Triple Trouble!

Find out about how your state funds special education! Get Financing Special Education: State Funding Formulas, a comprehensive review of state special education funding formulas.

From Transformational to Informational

March 2nd, 2010

Happy Birthday, IDEA Money Watch! Last March, before the ink was hardly dry on P.L. 111-5, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, IDEA Money Watch was up and running – providing tons of information and resources to help parents and advocates begin to track how $11.3 billion in additional funding for IDEA Part B (611, school-age children) would be used by the nation’s 14,000+ school districts.

We were excited! Excited about this one-time infusion of funds to support needed improvements in the services and supports for our 6 million school-age students with disabilities eligible under the IDEA. Many considered it an opportunity for an investment in truly transformational activities. And, since the Obama administration promised “unprecedented transparency,” all the better for those wanting to play a role in how this extra money would be spent.

One year later, we realize that our purpose has changed from playing a central role in a transformational experience to attempting to fill an informational black hole. As we reported in our last Balance Sheet, What Ten Months Have Taught Us, this project lead to discoveries we never imagined, nor particularly cared to confront.

We have faced the reality that much of what people thought would be funds spent on improving special education services and supports would, in fact, be supplanted by many local school districts because of a prickly little provision in IDEA. And that, furthermore, a district could use IDEA federal funds to pay for items previously funded with local funds as long as it maintains its level of local funding for special education. OK – at least the money is going to fund special education costs.

However, along the way one little detail seems to have been forgotten. It’s clearly stated in USED guidance, IDEA law and regulations. Here it is:

IDEA federal funds must only be used
for the excess costs of providing special education.

What, exactly, does this mean? Well, we turned to the excellent guidance provided by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (we long ago acknowledged Wisconsin as the BEST state web site for information on IDEA Recovery Act funds). The Wisconsin Frequently Asked Questions page provides this helpful information:

“How can you determine if a cost is an excess cost of providing special education services?

When determining whether a cost is an excess cost, ask the following guiding questions.

In the absence of special education needs, would this cost exist?
If the answer is…
No, then the cost is an excess cost and may be eligible.
Yes, then the cost is not an excess cost and is not allowed.

Is this cost also generated by students without disabilities?
If the answer is…
No, then the cost is an excess cost and may be eligible.
Yes, then the cost is not an excess cost and is not allowed.

If it is a child specific service, is the service documented in the student’s IEP?
If the answer is…
Yes, then the cost is an excess cost and may be eligible .

No, then the cost is not an excess cost and is not allowed.”

Seems simple enough to us! Yet we see district spending plans that include items that surely can’t pass this test. Take, for example, the spending plan for the Trumbull school district in Connecticut.  According to the application submitted to the CT DOE, Trumbull will spend several thousand dollars to provide 2 modular classrooms for overcrowded elementary schools.  No “excess cost” there! Trumbull would have overcrowded classrooms regardless of its students with disabilities — so using student growth doesn’t pass the “excess cost” test. Trumbull will also spend thousands ($264,000) more for digital whiteboards for 5th grades and middle schools. Unless these whiteboards are additional equipment needed to fulfill the special education services required by the Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) of students (i.e., above and beyond the equipment purchased to educate non-disabled students in Trumbull), purchasing this equipment is not an “excess cost” of special education. Seems like Trumbull is purchasing whiteboards for every 5th grade and middle school classroom in the district. (According to Trumbull’s 2007-2008 profile, the district has 619 students with IEPs.)

Here again, we turn to Wisconsin’s FAQ which states:

“Can IDEA Recovery funds be used for classroom technology like SMART boards?

IDEA Recovery funds must only be used for the excess costs of providing special education. Acquisition of SMART board technology is not an excess cost of providing special education if the LEA has decided to equip classrooms in a school and simply charges the IDEA grant a prorated amount based upon the number of children with disabilities in the school. The equipment is an excess cost of special education when related to the needs of a child with a disability in accordance with the IEP of the child. It may be provided in a regular education class or other education-related setting, even if one or more nondisabled children benefit. When the equipment is no longer needed to meet the IEP needs of a child with a disability, it must be managed or disposed of in accordance with 34 CFR §80.32, Education Department General Administrative Regulations.”

The Bottom Line

Beginning to get the picture? Get ahold of the IDEA Recovery Act spending plan for your school district. Then put it to the “excess cost” test.  If a proposed expenditure doesn’t pass the “excess cost” test, ask the district for justification.

Let us know what you find!

Closer Look: How States Determine Local District Performance

August 13th, 2009

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has made us look closely at provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that would otherwise have gotten little more than a nod. As we reported in What’s in a Rating, the IDEA provision allowing local educational agencies (LEAs, aka, local school districts) to reduce the amount of local funds expended on the excess cost of educating students with disabilities when federal funds increase took on new significance when the Recovery Act dumped more than $12 billion into the IDEA allocation for FY09.

We quickly learned (via U.S. Department of Education (USEd) guidance on ARRA) that LEAs could ONLY take advantage of this provision if they had received a “meets requirements” rating from the state on  implementation of IDEA as measured by the indicators in the State Performance Plan (SPP). That eye-opener lead us to start looked at just how the States had been instructed to go about determining the annual “ratings” for local districts.  We discovered that the USEd’s  Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) had issued lots of guidance to states about how to make the annual determinations (ratings) of LEAs. We learned, for example, that OSEP told States that they need only consider how LEAs performed on a few compliance indicators of the State Performance Plan (SPP)…and need not consider how LEAs did on any of the performance indicators of the SPP — stuff like graduating with a regular diploma, performing at a proficient level on state assessments.

Closer Look.

The Center for Law and Education (CLE) has taken a hard look at both the federal regulations and the federal guidance issued by USEd. In its memorandum released August 11, 2009, CLE provides an authoritative legal analysis of  all guidance to States. CLE has concluded that, based on both the intent and plain language of Congress, there seems to be no statutory authority for USEd’s guidance allowing States to limit their determinations of whether LEAs meet the requirements of IDEA to exclude consideration of performance indicators. According to CLE, the language of the statute plainly requires that LEAs consider and meet all of the targets contained in their State’s performance plan in order to be able to reduce their local level of expenditures (MOE) when federal funding increase.

The Bottom Line.

There are lots of unintended consequences attached to the whopping one-time increase in IDEA federal funds brought about by the ARRA. One of them is that it has made us take this closer look at the State Performance Plans and Annual Performance Reports, the guidance issued by USEd, and the all-important Legislative intent of IDEA 2004.

IDEA Money Watch doesn’t see any legitamacy to OSEP’s  guidance — particularly when taken in the context of No Child Left Behind (the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) which requires all students — including students with disabilities – to be proficient on state assessments.

OSEP has stated that, according to them, graduation with a regular high school diploma isn’t a goal of IDEA….neither is scoring proficient on state assessments (via either an alternate assessment or the regular assessment with accommodations).  However, OSEP must have questioned the requirements it outlined for the States. In a FAQ document issued to States in October 2006, OSEP poses this question among its list of issues and challenges for the States,  What is the message the State sends to the public if the criteria for making determinations relies solely on program’s performance on procedural compliance indicators?” We are learning the answer to that question more quickly than many would have thought. This approach doesn’t foster improvement for students with disabilities — it forces districts to focus on issues of compliance at the expense of student performance. And now, it has also allowed local districts with dismal performance to shift millions of dollars away from special education.

We can only hope that parents and advocates question the  process sanctioned by OSEP….and encourage their state department of education to take a comprehensive approach to determining the performance of local districts, as well as setting rigorous targets for all indicators in the State Performance Plan.

Endnote: Readers wanting to learn more about the SPP and APR process are invited to review the archive of our Webinar on this topic…its free and available here.

What’s in a Rating?

June 15th, 2009

Plenty, according to the U.S. Department of Education (USED). Many were surprised…even amazed to learn by way of the USED Guidance on Use of IDEA funds provided by the ARRA that local educational agencies (LEAs, aka school districts) would need to receive a “Meets Requirements” rating from the state (based on the LEA’s performance on the State Performance Plan)  in order to take advantage of IDEA’s provision allowing a reduction in its local level of expenditures on special education by up to 50% of any increase received from one fiscal year to the next.

Given the extraordinary circumstances brought about by the one-time IDEA supplemental appropriation that Congress provided in the ARRA, these LEA ratings suddenly became a BIG DEAL. The IDEA provision, intended to provide LEAs with some level of relief if/when Congress increases annual appropriations for IDEA, was based on the assumption that increases would be both gradual and sustained. Since the provision assumed a sustained increase, IDEA also allows the new, lower level of local expenditures to become the LEA’s new “maintenance of effort” — the amount of local funds the LEA must expend from one year to the next to be in compliance with the law and steer clear of “supplanting” issues. No one ever imagined the circumstances brought about by the IDEA ARRA funds — a giant increase with nothing to indicate that the increase in federal annual appropriations in coming years will be anything close to the amount provided by ARRA.

Foul cried some … “who knew” sobbed others. Well, the language requiring states to prohibit LEAs from reducing their local expenditures when increases occur had been hiding right in plain sight all the time. It’s in IDEA’s Section 616,  Monitoring, Technical Assistance, and Enforcement. Nobody had paid this little bit of statutory language much attention since increases in federal IDEA appropriations have been small, few and far between since the law’s enactment back in 1975. Now, here comes the ARRA and its big surprise — a supplemental appropriation for IDEA, all to be counted as FY09 funds, that is equal to the amount provided in FY09 for most LEAs. Now we’re talking serious money … and the LEAs suddenly have a lot riding on those RATINGS.

Federal IDEA Part B 611 Appropriations

Federal IDEA Part B 611 Appropriations

That’s our story and we’re stickin’ with it, said USED. In an addendum to its April 1, 2009 guidance, on April 13th USED modified its explanation of its original intrepretation regarding use of IDEA’s local level of expenditures provision (now known as the infamous D-7) maintaining its original interpretation.

Yippeecried the advocates … “About timeexclaimed gleeful parents. At least some of the more than 14,000 LEAs in the nation will need to spend all of their ARRA funds on improving services for IDEA-eligible students (while also maintaining the level of their local funding for special education)! Given the dismal outcomes of students with disabilities in the U.S., it seems only fair that LEAs found to be out of compliance with IDEA should be required to use the ARRA windfall funds to do better — by adding the new funds to their current level of expenditures.

The bottom line. Wait a minute. Turns out, the ratings given to LEAs are based on compliance data … stuff like the validity,  reliability and timeliness of the data  submitted by the LEA;  evidence of uncorrected noncompliance in the past; and any audit findings. While there are several important performance indicators in the State Performance Plan — such as graduation and dropout rate, proficiency in reading and math on state assessments, instruction in the least restrictive environment — how an LEA is doing on these performance indicators doesn’t count in the determination of the rating. (Take, for example, the performance of students with disabilities in Nevada’s Clark County School District, 5th largest district in the nation.) And, states are not required to report the LEA ratings to the public, making it hard to obtain this important piece of information.

IDEA Money Watch is busy obtaining the LEA ratings for every state in the nation. So far we have LEA ratings for 18 states available from our homepage under Blog Bytes. What we are finding is that most states rate most LEAs as “Meets Requirements” — making them eligible to take advantage of IDEA’s provision to reduce local expenditures by up to 50% of the increase they receive in federal IDEA funds. We’ll keep posting the rating until we have every state. Check back if your state isn’t listed yet.

Postnote: IDEA Money Watch wishes to thank the Center for Law and Education for its assistance in obtaining the LEA ratings from states that do not make the ratings publicly available.