State schools

Special education needs bailout

Superintendent wants taxpayers to cover $36 million that federal government will cut

abeam@thestate.com April 13, 2012 

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais wants taxpayers to make up $36 million that the federal government will cut from his department’s budget Oct. 1.

The federal government is penalizing South Carolina because it says the state violated federal law by not spending enough money on special education. Zais disputes that and has appealed to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. But Zais has yet to have a hearing.

The penalty was supposed to happen on Oct. 1, 2011. But Zais asked for, and was granted, an extension – in part because his appeal had not been heard. This year, with the appeal still unresolved, Zais asked for another extension. Last week, the federal government denied Zais’ request.

“We are sensitive to the budget concerns that you raised in your letter and note that the State may not be prepared to take action to address the loss in IDEA dollars until the underlying legal issues are resolved,” Deputy Secretary of Education Anthony Miller wrote Zais in a letter dated April 5. “We cannot anticipate when the Office of the Secretary’s deliberations in this matter will conclude, and having already delayed the reduction once, we believe it is in the best interests of students with disabilities for the State to prepare now for a reduction.”

Zais spokesman Jay Ragley told a state Senate subcommittee Thursday that the state Education Department plans to ask lawmakers for $36 million in taxpayer money to make up for the possible loss of federal money – most of which goes to pay the salaries of the state’s special-education teachers.

“We may have to (give the money),” said state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s K-12 education subcommittee. “(The school districts) probably already planned on the federal money coming in and if it doesn’t, then I think it’s going to hurt some of the neediest children that we have out there.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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