While the law does allow for a few instances when a school district can reduce funding for special education – for example, if special education personnel retire or a high-cost program is no longer needed – the U.S. Department of Education has said that 40% of states are misinterpreting MOE.
To help clarify, the Department is proposing new regulations that would help states and local school districts understand the various options for calculating MOE. In addition, the Department is proposing to clarify that if a school district fails to meet MOE, its future MOE calculation is based on the amount when it last adhered to MOE requirements, not the reduced level of expenditures.
During challenging economic times, it becomes even more critical to have protections in place for funding dedicated to providing critical special education and related services to the nation’s six million children and youth with disabilities. In fact, a recent survey of over 1,000 special educators from every state conducted by CEC and the National Coalition for Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services found that 83% of respondents report seeing an impact on the availability of services for students with disabilities, due to budget cuts at the federal, state, and local levels.
CEC’s response to the proposed regulations emphasizes our support for the spirit and intention of MOE, which is to ensure that children and youth with disabilities receive necessary special education and related services. However, CEC has strongly urged the Department to:
1.) Provide extensive technical assistance to states and school districts to make certain they understand how to accurately calculate MOE; and
2.) Provide further clarification about the exceptions currently allowed under law and regulation by allowing reductions in state/school district contributions to personnel health care or pensions costs to be considered an allowed reduction in special education expenditures.
As a result of the poor economy, many states and localities are reducing benefits provided to educators, such as healthcare and pensions. In fact, many state legislatures are considering or have passed state laws reducing such benefits for public service employees. As a result, it may appear that LEAs are reducing their special education expenditures, when in fact, the reduction is merely a reflection of the fewer personnel benefits offered by school districts, sometimes done to comply with state law. Because such a reduction does not impact the availability or delivery of special education services for children and youth with disabilities, CEC believes that these examples should be considered a “termination of costly expenditures for long-term purchases” which is already an allowable exception. It is our hope that this clarification would provide relief to LEAs struggling to meet MOE due to states and LEAs paying less for personnel benefits.