While ESEA reauthorization continues to be the focus of AASA’s advocacy efforts this summer, we are doing a special call-to-action this month for superintendent-championed legislation amending IDEA’s maintenance of effort requirements. For years, superintendents, school business officials, special education directors and others, have lamented the rigidity of the maintenance of provisions in IDEA. The recession and its subsequent impact on school district finances brought to light the critical need for more flexibility in the federal statute.
In July, AASA successfully lobbied to have legislation introduced that would amend IDEA to grant districts additional exceptions to reduce the maintenance of effort requirements as long as the provision of special education services to students was not compromised. Rep. Walberg (R) of Michigan introduced the legislation, the Building on Local District (BOLD) Flexibility in IDEA Act (HR 2965), and we need YOUR help to attract additional co-sponsors in the House and companion legislation in the Senate.
What flexibilities are provided to districts under the BOLD Flexibility in IDEA Act?
Districts can reduce MoE if they can demonstrate that (1) they are increasing the efficiency of their special education programs and there is no impact on the provision of special education services to students or (2) the reduction in expenditures is related to employment-related benefits provided to special education personnel (such as pay, retirement contributions, health insurance, etc) as long as the reduction does not result in a reduction in special education services to students.
Districts can also apply to the State for a waiver to reduce MoE if they are facing a serious financial crisis, but only if the districts provide evidence they are still providing FAPE to students.
5 Reasons Why This Bill Is Helpful to You and Your District
Reason #1: District leaders have an obligation to leverage local education funding in a manner that best serves the maximum number of students. IDEA must provide districts with the flexibility to ensure they are not wrongly penalized for changes in their special education funding levels that in no way impact the provision of special education to students with disabilities.
Reason #2: Districts should be encouraged to “do more with less” and re-negotiate contracts with vendors, repurpose equipment, change staffing schedules, and find other budgetary efficiencies that do not compromise student services without jeopardizing the federal maintenance of effort requirements. School system leaders have a responsibility to provide academic services to their students as well as a fiduciary responsibility to allocate resources economically to the taxpayers in district. These flexibilities bring these two responsibilities into balance.
Reason #3: States that have enacted reforms that have changed the requirements for districts regarding their contributions to employee pensions or health care should be allowed to reduce IDEA MoE since these budgetary changes do not impact the provision of services to students.
Reason #4: When state and federal IDEA funding levels decline dramatically or a major economic crisis affects a community’s overall resources, districts must be allowed to apply for a waiver to the state to reduce IDEA MoE on an individualized, annual basis. Title I of ESEA enables districts to apply for a waiver when these unfortunate circumstances arise, and IDEA should be aligned to Title I to provide districts with the same flexibility.
Reason #5: Special education students are general education students first. Savings that districts realize in their local special education expenditures should be reallocated to the general education budget, so administrators can dedicate these resources in a manner that best serves all of their students. Artificially maintaining special education funding levels because of an inflexible federal requirement does not allow districts to efficiently allocate limited resources to serve the maximum number of students.
Please take a moment to reach out to your Congressional Delegation and ask them to support this important bill. Feel free to include our one-pager, which is available here.