Congress Hands Special Ed Hefty Funding Boost

By: Michelle Diament

Originally Published: Disability Scoop, January 9, 2020

Federal funding for special education will rise the most it has in years under a newly approved government spending plan.

The increase comes as part of a $1.4 trillion package signed late last year by President Donald Trump that will fund the federal government through the end of September.

The measure includes level funding or increases for most programs that people with disabilities rely on, advocates said.

But special education is a big winner with a $400 million rise over last year. That’s the largest increase the program has seen since 2016, according to Annie Acosta, director of fiscal and family support policy at The Arc.

The added funds are the culmination of many years of advocacy driven by school groups and disability advocates alike who have been frustrated by underfunding of special education, she said.

“I think it should take a lot of the pressure off,” Acosta said of the extra dollars. “There’s a lot of ground to be made up for so we’re really pleased to see the increase.”

Outside of special education, funding to support respite care initiatives is up $2 million in the spending plan — a 48 percent increase — and the federal government will grow its support for vocational rehabilitation as well as a program to train professionals to screen and diagnose autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities will also see a bump.

Another program that’s set to see a big jump in dollars is Special Olympics. Last year, there was an outcry after the Trump administration proposed eliminating U.S. Department of Education funding for the sports organization’s education programs. The hubbub led Trump to publicly reverse course and pledge to continue support for Special Olympics. Not only does the budget deal that lawmakers approved maintain funding for the program, which promotes social inclusion in schools, it increases spending on the effort by 14 percent to over $20 million.

Separately, there is also $1 million allocated for a pilot program that would establish partnerships between university centers on developmental disabilities and nonprofits to create new models for community-based transition and daytime services that support independent living.

Kim Musheno, vice president of public policy at the Autism Society of America, said it’s good to see programs maintaining support.

“While we believe the federal government can and should be investing more in community-based services and supports for people with autism and other disabilities, we are pleased that the bill funding the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education provides at least level funding for many of the programs that support people with autism and other disabilities,” she said.

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