New Mexico's congressional delegation has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education hoping to avoid a punitive reduction in Special Education funds to the state. Officials say that the Feds could penalize the state close to 43 million dollars unless New Mexico is granted a waiver by the USDE.
The State needs the waivers because it slashed its portion of special education spending below the amount required to receive federal supplemental funding in 2010 and '11.
Albuquerque Teacher's Union President Ellen Bernstein says school districts across the State are already at their wits end trying to come up with ways to stretch their shrinking education budgets.
“The public schools in New Mexico have undergone four years of cuts. “I don’t how we can survive this-- people are disheartened, they are demoralized. They can’t really make their own budgets as individuals trying to teach kids. I mean more cuts are going to be so devastating to the school district.”
Democratic lawmaker Mimi Stewart is House Education Committee chair. She says in 2010, the outgoing Richardson administration warned PED Secretary-Designate Hannah Skandera of problems with the state's special education spending. But, according to Stewart, Skandera did not alert the legislature which could have fixed the problem.
“I think the most maddening thing for me is that the public education department didn't bring us into the issue. We were meeting all summer and all fall. They could have easily told us what was going on and they didn't."
The USDE has strict guidelines for granting state waivers. According to a USDE spokesman, the department only grant waivers due to exceptional or uncontrollable circumstances like super-storm Sandy or a steep loss in total revenue. Representative Stewart says federal officials have said more than once that the state is unlikely to get a waiver.
“My conversation with them they said well we don't meet the requirements to get a waiver because you had reserves that you could have used to fund special education students”.
But Republican House Education Committee member Dennis Rosh says the evidence in favor of New Mexico's waiver request is strong and he's certain the US Education Department will grant at least a partial waiver.
PED spokesman Larry Behrens says during the years in question the state’s special needs students received all the services they needed and were entitled to.
The USDE has granted 5 of the 7 waivers it received from states over the past five years. The decision to grant or not grant a waiver will impact approximately 46,000 special education students statewide.