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Policy Post – The Federal Budget on Special Education

February 10, 2010
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Court’s Kids will periodically provide some background information on special education policy from the federal level down to individual school programs.

The annual federal budget was proposed by the President last week. As Congress begins its debate, how could it impact our efforts? While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are some critical items to examine and look for in the news.

$11.8 billion for Special Education funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
This is a 2.2% increase. This does not include the $11.3 billion in the Stimulus Bill (more here).  Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a press conference that they would “continue to try and put more resources there but this is still not fully funded.” Special needs education is legally mandated by IDEA.  It calls for a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) for each qualified student with a disability, regardless of its nature or severity.  When IDEA first passed in 1975 it called for federal funding of 40 percent of the additional cost of special needs education programs however funding has never exceeded 18%.

Consolidating Funding and Eliminating Programs
In the proposed budget, six smaller literacy focused grant programs and non-competitive awards are folded into one large $450 million grant program for state education agencies. Those six are: Striving Readers ($250 mil), Even Start ($66 mil), Literacy through School Libraries ($19 mil) National Writing Project($26 mil), Reading is Fundamental ($25 mil), and Ready-to-Learn Television($27 mil).  The independent organizations, like Reading is Fundamental, would still be eligible for funding from the combined program but would be required to compete for it. This will be a point of debate in Congress as it represents a fundamental change in how funds are dispersed. (more here)

14% Increase to Head Start
Under the proposed budget Head Start, including Early Head Start, will receive an additional $989 million. According to the Budget Summary by Health and Human Services this will mean an additional 64,000 children can be included. This is encouraging for these programs, considering the widespread decrease in state-level funding.

It is inevitable that the budget will have many of its specific parts modified or taken out all together before it is passed. Many specific questions, especially in respect to literacy funding being consolidated, will need to be asked and answered before it is enacted. Stay tuned for more updates.

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