SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The largest school district in New Mexico is asking the federal government to take action to make the state follow federal laws governing special education.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reported (http://bit.ly/1m6LAHE) that the letter by Albuquerque Public Schools to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also suggests annual audits and stricter monitoring of New Mexico’s special-education budget.
The action revolves around guidelines that require the state to maintain the same level of special education funding from year to year or to increase funding. New Mexico failed to meet the funding requirement in 2010 and 2011 by decreasing the amount it spent on special education.
The state has about 46,500 special education students enrolled in its public schools. Under federal law, those students are entitled to extra services, such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, social work, counseling, extra instructional help and one-on-one attention.
Larry Behrens, a spokesman for the state Public Education Department, said in an email that New Mexico is spending more “than ever before so it’s frustrating that APS would send a letter with misinformation to undermine our efforts to help students.”
As a penalty for not maintaining or increasing special education funding, the federal government can decrease the amount of support it gives a state by the same amount that the state underspent. That amount was about $34 million for 2011. A legislative committee estimates that the state will lose about $26.4 million for special education in 2012.
The state was granted a waiver for its 2010 special education spending obligation and is contesting the federal government’s denial of its request for a waiver for 2011 spending requirements.
The state has argued that it spent less money on special education programs those years because individual districts required and spent less money, and that the economic recession that began in 2008 has greatly impacted the state’s annual budget.
Behrens said the department is open to speaking with the Albuquerque school district about the issue, but “as of yet they have not requested a single opportunity to meet with us to discuss. This letter leads us to believe their motivation is more political than out of concern for our students.”