Congressional repeal assures schools’ special needs funding

  • Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013 9:17 p.m.

Following the efforts of the State Department of Education and South Carolina’s congressional members, Congress has repealed a $36.2 million penalty in special education funding imposed against the state.

“It’s good that some common sense finally came out of Washington,” said King Laurence, the Aiken School District’s associate superintendent for instruction.

All the state’s school districts potentially could have been impacted by the penalty, which would have cost Aiken School District’s Department of Education $1 million each year for an indefinite period.

The S.C. General Assembly replaced the lost funds in the current fiscal year. However, there was no assurance that state lawmakers would continue to do so.

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais also used the term “common sense.” The issue emerged in 2009-10 when the U.S. Education Department did not allow South Carolina to obtain a wavier from state funding requirements related to special education.

“Today’s action repeals the absurd perpetual penalty that withheld $36,202,909 in funds used to provide services to students with disabilities,” Zais said in a press release.

If the state didn’t meet the requirement that year, it wasn’t intentional, Laurence said. It also didn’t make sense to fine the state over and over again, he said.

If state legislature chose not to replace the federal funds, the Aiken School District would have had to find the $1 million within its own budget.

“We’re also looking at sequestration, which could cost us 5 to 12 percent of all federal dollars,” Laurence said. “That would have come on top of the penalty fund loss.”

The irony, Zais said, is that Congress has never fully met its own requirements for special education appropriations.

“Historically, the federal government has provided only about 22 percent of the costs of these services for South Carolina’s children,” Zais said in the press release. “The federal government should either meet its financial commitment or provide flexibility to states, districts and schools.”

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