In a sharply worded letter, the Education Law Center (ELC) is calling on the U.S. Department of Education to immediately rescind a newly issued policy allowing school districts to cut spending on special education services to students with disabilities.
The policy changes the decades-long “maintenance of effort” (MOE) requirement under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that prevents school districts from reducing special education expenditures below the level of the preceding fiscal year, except in very narrow circumstances, such as a decrease in enrollment of students with disabilities.
The new policy would not only allow school districts to reduce spending below the prior year’s expenditures, but would also permit them to use the reduced amount as the base level from which MOE would be calculated the following year.
“The Secretary’s new policy undermines the critical mandate that districts maintain the level of spending on special education from year to year,” said Ruth Lowenkron, ELC senior attorney and author of the ELC letter. “The policy is wrong on its face and wholly detrimental to the nearly 6 million children with disabilities in our country.”
The new policy is another erosion of federal support for students with disabilities, as mandated by special education law. Congress has consistently failed to cover 40% of the cost of providing special education as mandated under IDEA, and instead has provided less than 20%. This gap in federal funding forces districts to divert local and state funding to special education, causing stress in districts’ budgets, particularly as many states have cut education spending over the past few years.
In the letter to USDOE, ELC raises concerns that allowing districts to reduce their special education expenditures year after year would harm the most vulnerable students. ELC also warned USDOE that it had usurped the role of Congress, which is the only entity sanctioned to modify the MOE provision.
Lowenkron further admonished USDOE that, “[e]specially in this time of severe cutbacks, we cannot afford an unauthorized exception to the MOE provisions….” Lowenkron said that a child who is blind simply cannot be told there is not enough money to provide books in Braille or on tape, nor can a child with hearing impairments be told that the district cannot afford a voice amplification system.
Ruth Deale Lowenkron, Esq.
973-624-1815, x 21
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications