As reported earlier this month by the Wall Street Journal, Local Educational Agencies (LEAs), a.k.a. here in Indiana as your local school cooperatives, will be able to take advantage of flexibility under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that allows them to reduce their spending on students with disabilities this year. IDEA provides that in any year in which an LEA’s federal IDEA, Part B, allocation exceeds the amount that LEA received the previous year, an eligible LEA may reduce spending on students with disabilities by 50 percent of the increase, so long as the funds are used for activities authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended. Because many LEAs received Recovery Act funds this year, the total increase in IDEA funding for LEAs is much bigger than previous years’ increases. As such, LEAs find themselves in a position where taking away funds from programs for children with disabilities may enable them to balance their budgets, particularly in states like Indiana where school budget shortfalls have been in the news lately.
Indiana was not one of the states included in the Government Accountability Office’s survey, but of the fifteen states included, an estimated 44 percent of LEAs surveyed planned to use the reduced local expenditure flexibility to decrease local spending on students with disabilities. (GAO Report, December 2009).
To be eligible to shift these funds, the LEA must meet certain requirements of IDEA, Part B, which includes meeting state performance plan targets. However, officials in some of the studied states admitted to the GAO that they had changed the criteria in their state performance plan this year to enable more schools to meet targets, and thus to be able to shift funds. Some of those states were Michigan, Ohio and Illinois, which are Indiana’s surrounding states.
As Indiana is not one of the included study states, it is hard to gauge how many local schools might be using this provision to make their budgets balance. However, based on the level of funding cuts that local schools are facing, it is logical to say they will be definitely thinking about it.