Pittsburgh School District plans $5 million cut in Special Education in 2012-2013


In this April 11, 2012 news article, the Post-Gazette reports on plans by the Pittsburgh Public Schools to reduce its local spending on special education by $5 million in the upcoming 2012-2013 school year.

The planned reduction is further explained in a report released by the Pittsburgh Public Schoools, Special Education in Pittsburgh Public Schools 2012-2013, available here. The publication makes no mention of the restrictions placed upon local school districts by the IDEA regarding reductions to local spending on special education. The restrictions, designed to protect students with disabilities from indiscriminate cuts to services and supports required to receive a free, appropriate public education, are spelled out in our document, Maintenance of Effort: The Basics. (PDF)

In an effort to understand how Pittsburgh Public Schools can legitimately reduce its spending on special education and maintain its eligibility to continue to receive substantial federal funds to support services and supports for special education, special education advocate and IDEA Money Watch collaborator, Pam Cook, has sent the following message to the PA Department of Education:

Sent via Email and U.S. Mail
April 17, 2012

Mr. John Tommasini, Director
Bureau of Special Education
Pennsylvania Department of Education
333 Market Street
Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333

Dear Mr. Tommasini:

I am writing as an educational consultant/advocate in western Pennsylvania to express concern regarding the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ proposed $5,000,000 reduction in special education spending for the 2012-2013 school year. (Please see the April 11, 2012 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.)

Can you explain how this reduction can be justified In light of the maintenance of effort requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)? Please see April 4, 2012 OSERS/OSEP letter to Kathleen Boundy, Co-Director of the Center for Law and Education: http://ideamoneywatch.com/docs/OSERS.OSEP.MOE.CLE.letter.040412.pdf.

Pam Cook, M.Ed.
cc: Mary Jane Conley, Senior Program Officer, Program for Students with Exceptionalities Pittsburgh Public Schools
Pat Hozella, Assistant Director, PDE Bureau of Special Education


Ms. Cook received the following response on April 19, 2012:


John forwarded to me your correspondence regarding the Pittsburgh  School District (PSD)  information in the newspaper  and its impact on MOE. This information has been  brought to our attention and  the BSE is currently in the process of arranging for a meeting with PSD staff. That meeting is tentatively  arranged for  early May. I will get back to you regarding this issue after we have met and reviewed  documentation.

Patricia Hozella | Assistant Director
Bureau of Special Education | Director’s Office
Pennsylvania Department of Education


UPDATE: In an email sent May 1, 2012, the PA Bureau of Special Education stated that it had conducted a conference call with Pittsburgh to discuss its planned reductions to special education spending and maintenance of effort requirements.

Pittsburgh claims that increases in pension costs, medical co-pays and  collective bargaining agreement will increase significantly enough that even with the anticipated staff reductions the  requirements of MOE will be met.

The PA DOE seems content with this explanation and assurance from Pittsburgh.

So, it turns out that the $5 million reduction really isn’t a $5 million reduction after all. Meanwhile, services to students with disabilities in Pittsburgh will be significantly reduced in the coming school year.

The unanswered question here is whether Pittsburgh has remained at its reduced level of spending (MOE) since 2009 when it took a $2.4 million reduction because of the Recovery Act IDEA funds it received.

IDEA Money Watch



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