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Policy Post: Budget Battle Continues

April 6, 2011

This week, Congressman Paul Ryan announced a budget proposal in what’s come to be called the Ryan Plan. The part of it that relates to what we do in special education is the proposed reduction of domestic spending to below 2008 levels with a freeze to increases of that level for 5 years. In sum this cuts the budget by over $4 trillion. It’s certainly a major proposal but its unlikely to actually pass. Among other things it privitizes Medicare, a hot button issue that no one wants to touch. Further, there are doubts on its benefits to the operation of the government, the economy, and the country as a whole.  Despite the skepticism, the Ryan Plan has been  a shock to the system in Washington this week and refreshed the debate on both sides.

There have now been calls now on both sides to start thinking bigger. As one left-leaning blogger put it Ryan “has indeed put a great deal on the table and stood behind it. It would a terrible shame if the Dems didn’t match him dollar for dollar with different priorities.”  Certainly the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission report is getting a second look now.  Say what you will of Ryan’s plan, but now big ideas are being discussed again.

So what’s one big idea that I hope for? Ideally it would be great for special education to not only stay at the levels its at today but grow to meet the federal government’s promise of 40% of funding for each student. In all the late night discussions and the talk about a government shut down, I’m not naive enough to think this would happen, at least this year.  What I can hope for is that after the almost inevitable cuts are complete a consensus gets built around a stable federal budget. Special education funding shouldn’t dramatically fluctuate year by year so wildly. States and school districts could more successful in planning a long term education for children if they knew what to expect. The stimulus was a huge boon, but it’s reaching its end and now some kids will have to say goodbye to a few teachers or worse, be shut out of programs they just began. What special education demands is a long view, where a child can make progress at a pace determined by their parents and educators not by dollars and cents.  Education needs long term stability after this rocky road of a recession.

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