The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) rescinded a recently implemented policy that allowed school districts around the country to cut spending on special education services for students with disabilities.
The April 2012 USDOE guidance reverts to the original interpretation of the “maintenance of effort” (MOE) requirement under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and comes after Education Law Center (ELC) and other disability rights advocates rebuked the federal department for the change in policy.
For decades, MOE had been invoked to prevent school districts from reducing special education spending below the level of the previous school year. Exceptions were permitted in very limited cases, including decreasing special education enrollment.
The April 2012 guidance specifically withdraws the June 2011 guidance, which delivered a double whammy. Under the June directive, districts were not only permitted to reduce spending below the prior year’s outlay, they were also free to use the lower spending level to calculate MOE for the following school year.
“We are grateful that the Department of Education heard the pleas of advocates. There are close to 6 million children with disabilities in the U.S., and the Department’s June 2011 guidance did them a huge disservice,” said Ruth Lowenkron, the ELC senior attorney who composed the letter to USDOE urging the Department to rescind the new guidance.
While the USDOE’s return to its prior interpretation of MOE provides some fiscal relief, ELC and other advocates are still fighting for federal funding of 40% of special education costs, as mandated by IDEA. The federal budget currently covers much less than 20% of special education costs, forcing school districts to use local and state funds earmarked for other purposes and thereby creating budgetary issues.
“Our task now is to make sure school districts know about the revised USDOE policy,” Lowenkron said. “We want to be absolutely sure that students with disabilities receive the services to which they are entitled by law.”
Ruth Deale Lowenkron, Esq.
973-624-1815, x 21
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications