DOE, South Carolina settle special education funding dispute

The U.S. Department of Education and the South Carolina Department of Education announced an agreement August 25, resolving a five-year-long dispute concerning the state’s special education funding compliance.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, states may not reduce their special education funding level from year to year without obtaining a one-year waiver from the DOE. The rule is known as the “maintenance of effort” requirement.

In 2011, the DOE threatened to withhold nearly $112 million in matching funds from the state, on the basis that it made illegal budget cuts to its special programs during the three previous years, during the heart of the recession.

South Carolina obtained a waiver for the 2008-09 school year, but not for the next two years. It argued it closed the gap through unexpected increases in state revenue.

Under the settlement agreement [PDF], the DOE will release approximately $51 million in previously withheld funds, to be spent over the next three to four fiscal years. The state must also set aside an additional $60 million in special education funding for the next two years, according to the Daily Progress.

“This settlement is a victory for children with disabilities in South Carolina,” said Sue Swenson, acting assistant secretary for the DOE’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, in a news release. “Our Administration is committed to ensuring that schools have the resources they need to provide necessary supports and services to children with disabilities to ensure that they can leave school ready for college and career.”