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Special education budgeting in New Mexico immoral and illegal

While U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan explicitly refuted all New Mexico Public Education Department arguments to lower the state’s special education budgets for the last six years, the PED is poised to continue spending scarce special education funds to pay expensive lawyers to justify its immoral and illegal special education budgeting practices.

The reality is that New Mexico has never had a thriving and robust special education system.

Ours was the last state in the Union to comply with the special education law Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. New Mexico long stubbornly refused to accept federal dollars to give disabled kids a chance at education.

Then, when we finally acquiesced and followed the law so that we could take the Federal money, within a decade the PED began slashing the special education budget, risking the federal money and the education that disabled students are entitled to receive.

PED has had no less than five Special Education Bureau directors in the last five years. None have been strong enough to last, or to fully follow the federal law carefully crafted to ensure the civil rights of disabled students aren’t violated.

Sadly, without leadership at the helm, the special education ship is sinking.

What makes New Mexico so special that we alone out of 50 states should be able to decide which components of federal education law we will follow and which we will ignore? Why is PED spending precious and limited special education dollars on fighting a lawsuit that it cannot win? How much has it spent so far on fighting to spend less for disabled kids?

Special education is underfunded yet again this year, in spite of the PED claims. The amount needed for fully funding our state special education budget is just over $448.5 million, but PED says it’s spending $442 million.

Perhaps we can see why math scores are dropping in the state if our own PED can’t tell that $442 million is not the same as $448.5 million.

This next legislative session, PED needs to present the Legislature with a budget that brings the special education bottom line up to the legal level. And since the special education portion of the education budget is not a standalone line item, our elected leaders in the Legislature need to ask the question: How much money in this budget is for special education?

If the answer isn’t $448.5 million, then it’s another budget that breaks the law.

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