Report: Families feeling the effects of special education cuts

Photo of desks in empty classroom
Special education funding slashed

Congress’ decision to slash $579 million in federal special education funding this year is already having nationwide impacts, according to a new survey from the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

Of the more than 1,000 families surveyed, 52.7 percent responded that their children’s services had been reduced, according to a Huffington Post article. In addition, 32.2 percent said class sizes grew, 27.4 percent reported service providers dropped and 13.1 percent said budget cuts had led to a change in a student’s placement.

In California, for example, which lost $62.9 million in federal special education funding, the state cut 759 special educators, according to an NCLD blog post. In New York, 429 such professionals lost their job.

“You cut the budget so much, at some point we all say you can’t get blood from a stone,” Lindsay Jones, public policy director for the NCLD, told the Huffington Post. “No district would ever say, we’re choosing different services because of money problems. That’s illegal. What surprised me were the willingness of people to personally speak out about this.”

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, passed in 1975, the federal government is required to contribute 40 percent of national special education funding, with the rest provided by the states.

Congress has never come close to providing the funding necessary to reach that figure. This year, the federal government is paying just 14 percent of special education funding, according to the Huffington Post article. The most funding it has ever contributed is 18.5 percent, in 2005 and in 2009, due to one-time stimulus boosted payments.

Like most discretionary benefits programs, special education funds were cut as as part of the automatic budget cuts, known as the sequestration, that went into effect March 1 after Congress failed to reach a comprehensive budget deal at the beginning of the year.

Despite the government’s 16-day shutdown in October, Congress’ spending authority once again will run out on January 15, if a new budget deal is not reached, according to Reuters. Accordingly, Congress has assembled a 29-member Senate-House committee, tasked with reaching a new budget deal by Dec. 13 to avoid a new shutdown and potentially reduce the impacts of sequestration.

“We want to make sure that everyone involved in those discussions are aware that parents are experiencing and seeing these cuts,” Jones told the Huffington Post. “We want to make sure they know that parents have seen cuts to special education services, and that’s something that is hard to prove or pinpoint because the districts are legally obligated to provide them” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”