State Auditor Hector Balderas warned the House Education Committee that the state could lose tens of millions dollars from the federal government for special education funding.--
He said that the state had not reached the "maintenance of effort" necessary to keep that federal funding.
This was in last year's session and Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said Tuesday that little has changed since then. Stewart chairs the House Education Committee.
Some signs point toward little progress being made. Balderas and other members of his office were again in front of the House Education Committee speaking about the special education funding from 2010 to 2012 earlier in this session.
Evan Blackstone, chief of staff for the state auditor, told the committee that depending on how the federal government responds to the appeal process, the impact could range from “zero to $62 million.”
The state must reach a certain level of funding, the "maintenance of effort" or MOE, to receive federal money for special education. And that hasn't been done the past few years.
"The last time that we were at an appropriate funding amount was in '08 and '09. And we have been trying to get back there," she said. "Well, some of us have been trying to get back there."
Public Education Department officials learned of the problem in 2011 -- but legislators did not learn about it until 2013 when a Legislative Education Study Committee staffer found a letter from the United States Department of Education that warned the state PED over the funding problem.
"So since we found out a year ago, we have been trying to delve into it," Stewart said.
PED officials, as reported by the Santa Fe New Mexican, and Stewart agree that the recession was a big cause of falling below the funding requirements.
Stewart says that the House Education Committee is trying to get back to the requirements with its budget for public education.
She says that Gov. Susana Martinez and secretary-designate Hanna Skandera have a different point of view.
"She wanted to put everything into the Public Education Department so that she and Skandera can decide who should get money and who should not," Stewart said. "The House Bill 3 in its original, when it left House Education, put $148 million above the line."
So far, the Public Education Department has applied for two waivers to the funding problems. One was approved, for Fiscal Year 2010, and another was rejected and is on its third appeal in Fiscal Year 2011. Stewart says appeals are needed for Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013 and likely 2014 as well.
"They are dragging out the appeals. We are on the third appeal [for Fiscal Year 2011], which is in April of this year," Stewart said. "They can drag this out until they're out of office, leaving us with a huge bill from the federal government and our funding in disarray."
Stewart sees the special education funding -- just one of the battles over education in the state -- as a very important part of the session.
"The issue is that this is a special class of students that have state and federal protection," Stewart said of the special education students. "And the PED has failed to protect this class of students by ignoring the US Department of Education's entreaty to us to insure that we have adequate funding going through the State Equalization Guarantee."