Special Education Spending Requirement May Have Unintended Consequences

Unintended Consequences of Special Education Requirement

New report finds that MOE spending requirement may limit efficiency and effectiveness in special education

A new report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that the maintenance of effort (MOE) spending requirement under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act  (IDEA), which requires districts to maintain the previous year’s spending on special education, may have the unintended effect of squashing innovation and in some cases reduced services for special education students.

Because districts must spend the same amount of money they spent the previous year on special education, MOE can deter districts from pursuing or investing in special education services or innovation that may temporarily increase spending even if it will improve or expand services for students with special needs for fear of being required to maintain the spending in subsequent years.

Similarly the report that found that because during budgeting crisis districts were not able to economize special education spending, they ended up cutting spending in general education, and as a result limiting the services provided to all students, including special education students who spent their time in general education settings.

While the report concluded that most states are meeting the MOE requirement (albeit with many reporting challenges), the Department of Education’s( DOE) delayed monitoring feedback on MOE have hampered states’ ability the facilitate compliance with MOE and preventing districts from taking corrective action. While the DOE completed its fiscal monitoring between 2010-2012, it has yet to issue feedback to nearly half of the states, despite its performance standard to deliver feedback within 88 days.

The DOE's delayed monitoring feedback

States also reported frustration over the DOE’s unclear and changing guidance and policies around MOE, further compounded by a lack of training and technical assistance provided by the DOE.  According to the report, “States and school districts cited the need for additional technical assistance, information sharing, and training to help them meet, not just understand, this complex requirement.”

The report concluded with several recommendations for the Secretary of Education to strengthen state’s monitoring to facilitate compliance with MOE regarding establishing and documenting time frames for prompt monitoring feedback and providing technical assistance and training to states to better facilitate MOE compliance.

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