Members of the New Mexico Congressional Delegation have introduced a bill that would protect New Mexico's future special education funding.
This week, the Department of Education ruled that New Mexico underfunded its share of the cost of educating students with special needs for the state fiscal year 2011. It determined New Mexico did not meet its financial obligations for special education spending by $34 million. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), states must maintain their share of special education spending through a "maintenance of effort" (MOE) requirement to ensure they use federal funding to enhance their services rather than supplant state funds. When states fall short of maintaining this effort, current law requires the federal contribution for special education funding be reduced by that same amount for all future years.
The "IDEA Adjustment Act" would limit any reduction in funding the Department may impose on a state like New Mexico to just one year of reduced funding. It was introduced yesterday by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich in the Senate and by Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham in the House of Representatives.
In a January 31, 2013 letter, the delegation asked the Department to give serious consideration to New Mexico's FY10 and FY11 waiver applications to avoid a reduction in the state's special education funding. That effort also resulted in New Mexico receiving deadline extensions while the state provided additional data to support its waiver application.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a member of the Appropriations Committee, also worked with the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee to include similar language in the current fiscal year 2013 Continuing Resolution and is also working to include language in future appropriation bills.
"We must meet the shared responsibility of fully and fairly educating students with special needs, and we've introduced this bill to make sure our schools have the needed federal resources to do so in the future," Sen. Udall said. "This is an unfortunate situation but we must work together to do right by our children, parents and teachers who rely on this important source of federal funding."
"Investing in education is an investment in New Mexico's future. Students with special needs deserve the resources and quality education they need to succeed. This legislation will ensure that the federal funding New Mexico's schools rely upon will be there for them in future years and will help open the door to a better education for all of our children," Sen. Heinrich said.
"The U.S. Department of Education's determination that the state failed to meet the maintenance of effort requirement in 2011 is a serious blow at a time when New Mexico cannot afford to lose out on vital federal funding," Rep. Ben Ray Luján said. "Losing $34 million - especially when it will be a permanent loss unless the legislation we introduced today is passed into law - will have painful consequences for other important priorities. What is even more concerning is that the U.S. Department of Education's letter stated that the State Public Education Department likely failed to meet maintenance of effort requirements in 2012 as well, which could result in an additional loss of $26 million per year. Anyone that has a child with special needs in their family or knows someone with special needs should be disappointed and frustrated with the state's inability to meet these requirements over the past few years. I will be working diligently with the delegation to advocate for passage of our legislation that lessens the impact of this decision and helps New Mexico schools get important funding for special education moving forward."
"States have an important obligation to provide a quality education to all of our students, especially those with special needs," Rep. Lujan Grisham said. "This bill ensures that New Mexico's students don't needlessly suffer as a result of the state's failure to meet its special education funding obligations."