Sequester is hurting people with disabilities

  • By Mike Ervin McClatchy-Tribune News Service
  • Friday, December 6, 2013 3:30pm
  • OpinionCommentary

Students with disabilities have been greatly harmed by the brutal and mindless cuts to the federal budget known as sequestration. And if Congress and President Obama don’t take action to end sequestration, additional automatic special education budget cuts will be imposed every year for the next nine years.

When Congress failed to reach agreement on a federal budget by the end of last February, this triggered an automatic 5 percent cut in funds for Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The U.S. Department of Education estimates the sequester cut about $579 million from IDEA. This affects about 6.5 million students with disabilities who are between the ages of 3 and 21.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities, a Washington-based advocacy group, recently surveyed more than 1,000 parents of students with disabilities benefitting from educational programs and services funded under IDEA. More than half of the parents surveyed said their children had been adversely affected by sequester cuts. The parents reported increases in class sizes, discontinuation of supports and services and dismissal of special education personnel.

Since the sequester took effect, the amount of special education money the federal government provides for states has dropped to its lowest level since 2001, according to the center.

The harm of this abandonment of special education reverberates through other student populations as some local school districts are trying to fund mandated special education services by shifting funds from other areas of their budgets.

The temporary budget agreement that ended the federal government shutdown left these cuts to special education in place. As negotiations continue to reach a long-term federal budget deal by the Dec. 13 deadline, it’s imperative that the sequester ends.

It has caused too much pain already.

Mike Ervin is a disability-rights activist.

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