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Billions of Special Education Federal Funds Historically Go Unspent

By Robin Hansen
July 5, 2009

The single most common school district excuse for not giving special education students a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) is that "they don't have the funds." This excuse gives districts a golden ticket to tossing special education students out in the world without the skills for financial self-sufficiency. Many vulnerable parents believe this and blindly trust public schools no matter what, thus making it easy to cheat children out of a minimum standard of education.

Meanwhile the rest of society fails to adequately grasp how much these children, and future young adults, will cost then in terms of welfare, crime, incarceration, medical and social services over the rest of their lifetime vs the 13 years they spent in the education system. Hint: one year of incarceration for one student costs $40,000 tax payer dollars. Not to mention the tax dollars LOST from a person who is not skilled enough to keep a job.

The IDEA funds left unspent are proof that many schools school districts say "no" just to say "no" . They do not consider spending money on these children even when they have it! Then they take the money, put it back in the general fund and spend on pet projects.

In Pennsylvania, a large amount of funds that were dispersed to carter schools for special education students went unspent.

The Philadelphia Inquirer article stated:
"The 2,150-student Delaware County charter school received $21,840 last school year for each special-education student from its home district, Chester Upland. That's more than three times the $6,812 subsidy it got for each regular student.

But state calculations show that the charter spent less than a third of the $9.4 million it received for special-education students on special education".

"That analysis showed that special-education over funding was worse than the state reported. Charter schools across Pennsylvania received about $91 million in subsidies, while spending only $50 million. They were able to spend the surplus funds for any purpose they wanted."

A news brief dated November 2008 from the Thompson Compliance website stated:

"It is difficult to make the argument that more federal funds are needed to support special education and related services under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act when millions of dollars go unspent each year.

"Several years ago, we had about $32 million of IDEA funds that reverted to the Treasury," said Ruth Ryder of the Education Department's Office of Special Education Programs' Monitoring and State Improvement Planning Division. "Congress sees that there are these large balances that are not being used within states. It does raise a concern for them. In working with states on this for several years, we have gotten that down to where now it's about $5 million."

In 2003, Suzanne Whitney, the research editor at put together a great summary showing how states were sitting on over 5.7 billion in federal education funds. Interesting tidbits included:

"Every state has millions of unspent federal education dollars from 2000-2002.

New York ranks #1 with $689 million in unspent federal funds (12% of their allotment for 2000-2003)

California ranks #2 with $671 million in unspent funds (7.5 % of their allotment)

Texas ranks #3 with $412 million (7 % of their allotment)

Ohio is sitting on $409 million (16 percent of their 2000-2002 allotment).

Arkansas is in last place - it used all but 1.7% ($12 million) of its funds.

How does your state rank? Are you curious? Check this chart!

While states hire lobbyists to seek changes in No Child Left Behind, millions of children are not learning to read, spell or do math at grade level. (Graphs of student proficiency in reading, math, science)"

Remember that every dollar not spent may be sent back to the federal government OR subtracted from the next years allotment OR they can be put into the general fund.

The irony in all this, is the fact, unspent funds in 2002 were from a far lower distribution than the money received in 2009! How much of the 2009 year cash infusion for disabled students will go unspent on the disabled students? Will there be more "reverse encroachment" where schools siphon the money into their general fund?

Do school districts deliberately withhold funding from special education students so money can be put back the general fund so they can pay for pet projects? Why are these so kids undervalued?

For more info:Read more about unspent federal funds here.

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