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SANTA FE (AP) — Millions of dollars of federal money for special-education programs in New Mexico is at risk because the state hasn’t met all of Washington’s requirements to qualify for the funding.
Between $43 million and $93 million could be withheld in future years, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Education said the problem is that the state failed to abide by a requirement to not reduce its own spending on federally funded programs and so far has failed to obtain a waiver from the agency.
State legislators addressed the issue Monday during a joint hearing of the Senate and House education committees. They said they’re still trying to sort out exactly what happened, and they expressed concerns over what the situation means for the state’s education budget.
The Public Education Department maintains that it has been discussing the issue with the federal agency since the beginning of Gov. Susana Martinez’s tenure as governor.
Correspondence between the state and the agency show that New Mexico was notified of stricter spending guidelines in the fall of 2011, and the two parties agreed that the state should request a waiver the following spring.
The state filed its request in August 2012, saying “an unforeseen decline” in resources resulted in reduced spending on special education programs. That request was amended in September and federal officials in December notified the state that it may not get the waiver and would have until Feb. 1 to appeal.
The state had reduced its spending on special education by more than $15 million in 2010 and $28 million in 2011.
Educators who testified at Monday’s committee meeting said the reduction in funding could be partially due to a decrease in funding needs. They said funding requirements could drop if veteran special education teachers retire or if a district’s special education population declines.
Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Tucumcari, said the federal spending requirements are unreasonable because states can’t guarantee they will spend the same amount of money every year on special education.
He said it’s like agreeing to a handout with strings attached and “those strings will strangle us.”