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Stimulus Funds for Special Ed Bypass Special Ed

Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks with a group of sixth graders at Paul Revere Elementary School on May 22, 2009, in San Francisco. Duncan toured the school during a visit in which he met with mayors and school district superintendents to discuss how the federal stimulus plan could affect schools. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) This is one of our editors' picks from our ongoing roundup of Investigations Elsewhere.

The federal stimulus package set aside $11.3 billion for special-needs education in this school year and the next, but school districts across the country are using those funds for other purposes, reports The Wall Street Journal. A provision in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a version of a statute originally enacted in 1975, makes the move perfectly legal, but it has left special-needs advocates feeling shortchanged.

When the federal government amps up funding for special-needs students, the provision allows certain school districts to divert as much as half of the increase to other uses. In this school year, districts in Florida, Nevada and Connecticut have used special-needs funds to save jobs and add math programs. According to a poll conducted by the Government Accountability Office, more districts plan to follow suit.

Adding insult to injury, schools must meet certain standards, like special-education graduation rates, to be eligible to divert the funds, so some states are "ignoring or lowering the standards," the Journal reports. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has urged states not to do this, but school administrators tell the Journal that stretched budgets have left them with little choice but to shift special-needs funding to other uses.

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