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IDEA Funding Update

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  • Alpy2@aol.com
    Thanks to COPAA (Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, _http://www.copaa.org_ (http://www.copaa.org/) for this summary and analysis of the impact of the
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 15, 2009
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      Thanks to COPAA (Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, http://www.copaa.org for this summary and analysis of the impact of the stimulus bill on IDEA funding:
       

      Summary of Some Key Points in the Stimulus Bill for Special Education

      I think everyone saw the alerts last week.  The Senate Stimulus bill would have allowed SEAs/LEAs to use all IDEA funds to supplant state/local special-ed funds, thus allowing them to cut special-ed spending overall.  So, instead of an increase in special-ed funding, as the stimulus contemplated, there would be a decrease. The provision applied to all Part B and C funds (not just the extra stimulus money).  If it had passed , it would have changed a provision that's been a fundamental part of the IDEA since 1975.  What this would have meant is that the school districts could use their entire Part B and C allocations (regular allocations plus stimulus money) to reduce the amount of money they have to spend on special education.  This would have meant real cuts, in the sense that districts could divert not only their stimulus funds, but then cut more money because of the Part B and C funds they would be receiving through the regular process.

      What Happened in the Final Bill:  The very good news is that this provision was entirely eliminated from the final bill.  Thanks much to Congressman Miller, Congressman Obey and their staffs on the House side; Senator Kennedy, Senator Harkin and their staffs on the Senate side, and to the members of the Conference Committee and Appropriations Committee for working to protect the needs of children with disabilities.  We also thank the Disability Policy Collaboration (ARC/UCP), Easter Seals, National Center for Learning Disabilities, National Downs Syndrome Society, and the many disability organizations and individuals who worked on these issues over the last few weeks.  In particular, we thank the many COPAA members and other parents, family members, friends, advocates, attorneys, and others who rallied against the Senate provision in response to our alert.  We received many many letters which were delivered to the conferees, and we know many more calls and faxes were sent.  COPAA members and other child advocates put the alerts out through listservs and yahoo groups, on their webpages, and on Facebook and other social-networking pages.  I don't think anyone you-tubed it, but we'll get there <grin> Thanks to everyone who promoted the alerts and who worked on this issue!

       Thoughts on the Bill:  Below are my initial thoughts on the bill, as I was asked by a member to provide them.  This is not a complete analysis, even though it looks long (because its hard to reduce this into 2 sentences and make it understandable).  The final stimulus bill emerged yesterday (Friday) and it will take some time for a lot of people to look at it and determine how it works and interacts with the IDEA.  So, please do not read this as a final analysis, or even a semi-final one.

       Bill Provides Major Increase in Special Education Funding.  Overall, the bill will provide a major increase in special education funding, including$12.2 billion total for IDEA.  This includes $11.2 billion for IDEA Part B, $400 million for IDEA preschool funding, and $500 million for Part C.  This is in addition to the regular Part B and Part C allocations. 

       IDEA has long been woefully underfunded and we have all seen the effects of this, with children who are not identified for special education, or when identified, receive inadequate services and assistance.  While there are many school districts that strive to provide good special education programs, it is important to ensure that all children with disabilities receive appropriate educations that prepare them for adult living. 

       As we have all seen in our communities, many families are experiencing severe economic stress, losing jobs, working reduced hours, facing cuts in their businesses and in their retirement funds.  These include parents of children with disabilities who now face constraints in the services they can provide for their children.  Children with disabilities are a very vulnerable population, and even before the current recession, many lived in families facing financial stress.  Even before the recession, approximately 2/3 of children with disabilities lived in families earning under $50,000 a year; approximately 35%, in families earning under $25,000 a year.  Children with disabilities need appropriate educations and services to be able to achieve and work towards maximum independence.  It is thus important that the stimulus bill provides these additional IDEA funds to meet the needs of children with disabilities.   Just as adults with disabilities are vulnerable populations who need additional funding, children with disabilities are, too.  It is important, IMHO, that Congress delineated these funds for IDEA-not simply additional block funding to school districts or even block funding for school district job creation/preservation only.  I think Congress recognized that families of children with disabilities are facing job losses and severe economic burdens and it acted to protect those children and their needs in this additional IDEA funding, including providing appropriate educational and related services, equipment, assistive technology, training for teachers, access to nurses, etc.

      You should begin working with other advocates in your community and state to give input on how these funds will be spent.  Find out the process your state and school district will use to award and spend the funds, and how you can have input.  While some states have complained that getting money for 2 years for special-education is useless, one questions this claim.  Assistive technology, equipment, training in reading and other methodologies for teachers are all important things that will have an impact for a long time.  The same is obviously true for providing appropriate services; districts must provide FAPE. Moreover, you want to watch for the impact of layoffs on special education.  What about requirements for providing highly-qualified special education teachers? Are appropriate staff providing services, and are those services appropriate?  Are children being shifted from 1:1 and 1:2 therapy to large, group therapy?  Ask what your state will do to make public how the additional IDEA and School Stabilization funds are spent.  What will be the accountability mechanisms in place?  Be part of the process and have an impact. 

       Two Sources of Funding to School Districts:  In the stimulus bill, school districts will get 2 different kinds of money: additional IDEA funds for 2009-10 and then stabilization funds.  The increase in IDEA funding is a substantial increase.  Stabilization funds can be used for a broad variety of purposes, including special education and the school modernization you heard so much about in the press.  (Separately, there are also additional funds for Title I and other educational purposes.)

      Under the Stabilization Funds portion of the bill (a separate title called State Fiscal Stabilization Funds), the Secretary of Education will get limited waiver authority to count the stabilization funds as non-federal funds when calculating maintenance of effort.  This waiver authority is intended to be very narrow. What this means is that if a school district spends its stabilization funds on special education, and the Secy of Ed gives a waiver, the district can count those stabilization funds as if they were the school district's own money and cut its own contribution to special education by a similar amount.   Again, this waiver authority only applies to the stabilization funds and requires approval by the Secretary of Education.  It does not apply to the Part B or C funding the school district receives every year or to the additional IDEA funds in the stimulus bill.  This is a strong improvement from the language in the Senate bill, which would have allowed waivers to be granted for all IDEA funding and would have thus allowed greater cuts in school district and state special-education spending. 

      But there may be an impact on maintenance of effort requirements under the IDEA.  The stimulus bill has $11.3 million in Part B funds for FY 2009 and 2010.  It is possible these funds could be awarded in a lump sum to the states, which then will allocate them to school districts.  Under Section 613 of the IDEA, when a school district's allocation of Part B funds is greater than in the past fiscal year, the school district may reduce its spending by 50 percent of the amount of that increase.  The additional IDEA funds in the Stimulus Bill may affect this.

      Reporting Provisions:  The final law also includes a list of reporting requirements in the State Stabilization portion of the bill, including how the state stabilization funds were used, the state's progress in hiring highly-qualified teachers, and its progress in developing valid and reliable assessments for limited English proficient students and children with disabilities.

      Modernization/ADA Compliance.  State Stabilization funds can be used for school modernization.  Find out what your school district will do to ensure that school buildings are made ADA-compliant, and how to prioritize this goal.  Identify schools that need improvements to be ADA-compliant and advocate with your school board; help them understand why this is so crucial.

       How to Find the Bill:

      The final bill is posted in several places.  The Stimulus bill's formal name is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

      One place the bill is posted the House Appropriations Committee website, http://appropriations.house.gov/

      The provisions relating to special education, IDEA, and the Stabilization fund are in the Document marked Bill Text, Division A:

      http://appropriations.house.gov/pdf/Recovery_Bill_Div_A.pdf

      The Education section begins on page 168 of the PDF (it says p.22 at the top but that's just the page of the section its in), and then the section relation to State Stabilization Funds and waiver begins on page 425 of the PDF, the Title named State Fiscal Stabilization Funds.

      Thanks again to everyone who worked to protect funding for children with disabilities in the stimulus bill!!  And we're all looking forward to seeing everyone at the COPAA conference in March.

      Jessica Butler, Co-Chair, Congressional Affairs
      Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc.  (COPAA)
      a national voice for special education rights and advocacy
      www.copaa.org

      © Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (COPAA) (2009)

       

       
      Sandy, Illinois (alpy2@...)
      Volunteer Co-Webmaster, Our Children Left Behind (http://www.ourchildrenleftbehind.com) (IDEA & NCLB reauthorization)


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