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SDPB Radio Coverage of the South Dakota Legislature. See all coverage and find links to audio and video streams live from the Capitol at www.sdpb.org/statehouse

Lawmakers Consider Special Ed Waiver

State lawmakers are considering applying for a federal waiver in special education funding. Members of the Joint Appropriations committee spend this week exploring South Dakota’s programs and funding in education. Some legislators say one federal mandate isn’t fair.

Officials with South Dakota’s Department of Education say the state needs more than $51 million for special education in the next budget; however, one federal requirement forces the department to make nearly $2 million more available for special ed.

Tammy Darnell with the department of Education says this maintenance of effort makes South Dakota keep the same level of funding on hand for special education.

"All of the other maintenance of effort for like childhood nutrition or Birth to 3, we have to expend the same level of funding as we did the previous year. For special education, we just have to make available," Darnell says. 

On the surface, it sounds like a good thing: South Dakota can spend what’s needed on special education, even if it’s less than the amount set aside. But the state can’t ever budget any less money for special education without jeopardizing federal funding.

State Senator Deb Peters says that requirement works against taxpayers.

"We collected tax dollars at one amount. We appropriated a lower amount, and we actually used and needed an even lower amount," Peters says. "The federal government says, if you appropriated it, you have to keep it at that level for the end of time."

Peters chairs the Joint Appropriations Committee. Members of the panel are considering encouraging South Dakota’s Department of Education to apply for a federal waiver.

Ann Larsen with the department says other states have received waivers, but the process is arduous.

"They had to undergo a federal audit the next year, where they came in and went to districts," Larsen says. "And the reason is that funding was cut in the district special education as well as the state, and so they had to prove that they were still able to provide special education services to all of the students that need it."

The department is researching whether South Dakota qualifies for a federal waiver to lower its budget for special education closer to the average need.