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Feds say New Mexico ‘needs assistance’ in special ed

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

In June, the state was graded as “needs assistance” by the U.S. Department of Education for how New Mexico’s public schools provide services to students with disabilities.

It was the fifth year in a row the state received this rating.

The “needs assistance” grade is the second-best of four determinations, but it means the department does not believe New Mexico meets all requirements and purposes of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.

The four determinations, in order from best to worst, are:

Meets the requirements and purposes of IDEA

 Needs Assistance in implementing the requirements of IDEA

• Needs Intervention in implementing the requirements

• Needs Substantial Intervention in implementing the requirements

Twenty-two states met requirements in 2018. New Mexico is among 26 that were rated “needs assistance” two or more consecutive years.

Deborah Dominguez-Clark, special education director for the New Mexico Public Education Department, said the state was marked “needs assistance” in part because of its lower participation in the National Assessment of Education Progress test, which she said PED is working to improve through a campaign to improve testing turnout. Two other factors that contributed to the determination, Dominguez-Clark said, were that the state’s measures to address whether students are eligible for special education services weren’t up to par and those evaluations weren’t happening in a timely manner.

PED is providing professional development and resources to help school districts determine whether students should be in special education programs, she said. It is also following up on those evaluations.

The aim is to prevent the state from being labeled “needs assistance” for a sixth year in a row.

Since the state earned that label in consecutive years, New Mexico is required to advertise for technical assistance resources to help address areas in which it needs assistance. Dominguez-Clark said the state will also be required to report on these efforts early next year.

New Mexico receives $98.8 million from the federal government for special education services, according to PED.

Several years ago, the department had a run-in with federal education officials over how it funded special education students, placing $34 million or more in federal funds in jeopardy.

In 2014, a judge ruled that New Mexico did not have the right to reduce special education funding in 2011 while the state received federal special education money at that time.

In early 2016, then-Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said her agency and the DOE struck a deal that resulted in no reduction in federal funding to the state.

But PED had to agree to appropriate an extra $45 million in state funds for special education over the next five years – $9 million annually.