March 7, 2014
Special education advocates might be feeling a bit of bridesmaid's syndrome right now.
Early education continues to get attention from the White House (though whether administration plans will come to fruition in a skeptical Congress is another story). But the funding for special education, about $11.5 billion for fiscal 2014, is proposed to remain at $11.5 billion for fiscal 2015.
"We were really dismayed to see a budget come out of this administration that has not been supportive of the formula grant for special education," said Kim Hymes, the senior director for policy and advocacy for the Council for Exceptional Children, in Arlington, Va.
Part of that formula grant goes to programs aimed at preschool-aged children, Hymes noted, through two funding streams. Section 619 of Part B of the Individuals with Disabilies Education Act (called Section 619 for short) is intended to help states pay for preschool programs for children ages 3 to 5 with disabilities. Part C of the IDEA pays for early interventions for children from infancy to age 3.
The National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center, funded through the U.S. Department of Education, has created charts that track the spending on those particular programs, per enrolled child. About 750,000 preschoolers were receiving services through section 619 in the 2012-13 school year, and the federal contribution that year was $471 per child. The funding has been on a steady decline since 1992, when federal funding was at its high point of $802 per child.
For Part C, the infants and toddlers program, 334,000 children participated with a federal contribution of $1,257 per child in 2012-13. Funding for that program has also been sliding since 1999, when the federal money alloted was as high as $1,979 per child enrolled.
There's a lack of attention to these programs, Hymes says. "When we talk about investing in preschool, we also need to look at some of these programs that we know are serving high-needs students."
For its part, the administration explains in its proposal for section 619 and for Part C that the preschool expansion proposals mentioned in other parts of the budget will help provide services to young children with disabilities. Those children have also been served through the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants, the budget document says.