Federal education regulators said Thursday that South Carolina will not be punished for cutting special needs student funding during the recent economic recovery, but the state must pay out an additional $51 million to school districts.
The US Education Department has been litigating South Carolina ever since the state fell $51 million short of special education funding in the recession’s aftermath from fiscal years 2010-2013. Federal rules require states to keep their Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding levels the same from one year to the next. States risk losing federal IDEA funds if they do not.
US Education Department officials had initially threatened a $112 million cut in 2011. South Carolina lawmakers were able to make up some of the shortfall, but then-Education Superintendent Mick Zais had disputed the total penalty as excessive. The feds initially dismissed his appeal, but a federal appeals court ordered the agency to give South Carolina a hearing in 2013.
Federal officials agreed Thursday not to penalize South Carolina, but the state must pay out the shortfall difference to districts within the next four years. But state education officials expect that amount to be doled out this next year, since legislators anticipated the settlement and allocated an extra $60 million in this year’s budget. The additional money will not be used in future calculations of IDEA funds.
“This settlement is a victory for children with disabilities in South Carolina,” Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Sue Swenson said in a statement. “Our Administration is committed to ensuring that schools have the resources they need to provide necessary supports and services to children with disabilities to ensure that they can leave school ready for college and career.”