Tuesday, February 25, 2020
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Can the feds withhold money for special ed?

Right before President Donald Trump was sworn in, the US Education Department said Texas had not followed federal guidelines in providing funding for special education programs. The Obama administration decided to withhold about $33.3 million in special ed funding as a result. The department reaffirmed that determination under Betsy DeVos in July. So did an administrative law judge, and the state now brings the case before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Houston Chronicle did some investigative reporting to make a determination that Texas had set a de facto cap of 8.5 percent on the number of students who would be eligible for special education services (and funding), but the department’s determination was actually separate from that investigation.

The current case involves the state reducing its level of support for special education programs by the amount of a federal grant for special education. The Obama and Trump administrations both said that’s not what the federal grant was meant to do. As a result, the feds are withholding money by an amount equal to that grant.

Texas has argued that the federal guidelines are ambiguous and that it didn’t violate them, although the state doesn’t deny the funding decrease. By not maintaining the level of funding, the state should have applied for a waiver, the feds say. The state has countered that by arguing that the number of students in special education has gone down.

But see the Chronicle’s investigative report.

Now the case, which involves funds from the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, Part B, comes before a three-judge panel on the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, pitting the Trump administration, where former Texas Gov Rick Perry works as energy secretary, against a huge, decidedly red state, The Texas Tribune reports.

Lawyers from the state say the administrative process of applying for a waiver to reduce funding is burdensome and that the state has been so successful at helping kids overcome their disabilities that they didn’t need special ed funding quite as much.

“The state is a purely passive actor” in the funding system for kids with disabilities, the paper quoted Kyle Hawkins, the state’s new solicitor general, as saying. That is, whatever school districts report as their special ed enrollments and financial needs, the state provides. If fewer kids get reported, the state sends less money.

But see the Chronicle’s report.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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