The nation’s highest education official told the Senate’s Health Education, Labor and Pension Committee on July 26 that almost $900 billion in special education funding would be on the chopping block if Congress follows through on its budget deficit reduction deal from last January.
Under the deal, automatic cuts will go into effect for almost all domestic programs next January 2, with the exception of Medicaid and a few other major programs, unless Congress renegotiates the deal.
With the cuts as they stand now, special education would be cut by about 7.8 percent, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, resulting in layoffs to more than 10,000 teachers, aids and other staff that supports students with special needs.
If that cut went through, federal funding for special education would fall to 14.5 percent, far below the 40 percent it is required to provide under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and increasing the burden on states to provide services.
“While it is absolutely our hope and intention to avoid sequestration, the Department of Education, along with all other agencies, will be ready to implement cuts if sequestration happens,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the committee. “But we all know that there are steps we can take so we don’t have to start down this path that puts so many critical services to students, families and communities at risk. As everyone knows, sequestration does not have to happen and should not happen.”
With the upcoming election, it is looking increasingly unlikely that Congress will reach a deal anytime soon, at least until the deadline looms closer.
Committee chairman Tom Harkin recently released a report detailing the effect of the automatic cuts on education programs.
“I hope this report will motivate members of both parties to embrace a spirit of compromise,” Harkin stated in the report’s introduction. “The time for ideological posturing is past. We all agree that sequestration would be tremendously destructive. We all want to avoid it.
“That means we all must come together with good will to hammer out a balanced agreement that will not only prevent sequestration, but reduce our deficit and protect America’s families.”