New GAO Report Highlights Critical Need for BOLD Flexibility in IDEA Act

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On October 19, 2015 a report was issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) examining the functionality of the current “maintenance of effort” provisions in IDEA. You can access the report here:

There were many important takeaways from the report that support the adoption of legislation such as HR 2965—the BOLD Flexibility in IDEA Act. Here are a few we wanted to highlight: 

  • To promote innovation and efficiency while safeguarding special education funding, GAO suggests that Congress consider options for a more flexible local MOE, such as adopting a less stringent maintenance requirement.  
  • GAO believes districts need more exceptions for reducing MOE. GAO identified various circumstances related to cost reductions—such as local actions to implement efficiencies—as key challenges in meeting MOE. 
  • GAO found stringent MOE requirements can have negative consequences for all students. Prioritizing special education spending to meet MOE during a period of budget constraints can result in cuts to general education spending that affect services for all students, including the many students with disabilities who spend much of their days in general education classrooms.  
  • The GAO report revealed that some district officials found that MOE can discourage efforts to implement innovations or expand services. For example, some leaders said that because of MOE, they did not want to commit to a higher level of spending to implement innovative services, despite other provisions in IDEA that are intended to encourage innovation.  
  • The GAO investigation uncovered that in the 2014-2015 school year, 9 states believe almost half of all districts in the state will struggle to maintain special education funding levels, and 25 states acknowledged that some districts will face challenges in meeting the MOE requirement in 14-15.  
  • The GAO found that at least some districts faced challenges in meeting the requirement, despite exceptions intended to help in such situations. Specifically, the current exceptions do not address the key challenges that districts face, including factors that are outside of their control and that do not affect the level of services provided to students with disabilities. In these situations, it was unclear whether funds spent on special education to comply with MOE resulted in enhanced services for students with disabilities. 
  • In their survey, GAO found that districts cited reductions in state funding of K-12 education and reductions in the state contribution to funding for special education as a major factor in not meeting MOE. State funding for elementary and secondary education has been slow to recover from the 2008 recession and long-term budget challenges are likely to persist. 
  • In addition, rural districts are disproportionately struggling to keep up funding for special education. Of the districts surveyed by GAO, 57.8 percent of districts that had anticipated having trouble meeting MOE were rural. 


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