New Mexico Rejected on Special Ed Funding Waiver, Loses $34 Million

The federal government has rejected New Mexico’s request for a waiver for special education funding requirements for the 2011 budget year, the Las Cruces Sun-News reports. The waiver denial could cost the state as much as $34.1 million in funding – a decision the officials only learned about last Monday.

However, the Department of Education also made clear that the state would not be further penalized for also underfunding special education programs in its schools in the 2010 budget. New Mexico’s education budget was reduced that year in part to make up for the fall in revenues brought on by the economic recession.

Hanna Skandera, secretary-designate of the New Mexico Public Education Department, said the next step by the state would be a hearing at which it would continue to seek the waiver for 2011.

She said in an interview that she considered it a victory that the federal government had decided not to penalize the state for its handling of special education funding for 2010.

Skandera, part of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, took office in January 2011, the middle of the budget year for which the state could be penalized.

Skandera said that the funding issues were left over from the administration of former governor Bill Richardson, but this explanation didn’t satisfy Democratic State Representative Mimi Stewart, who wanted to know why Skandera took two years to appraise legislators that the federal government had raised an issue with the level of special education funding in the state.

Stewart said that had Skandera informed the lawmakers in a more timely manner, they could have reworked the state budget in time and shifted enough money towards special education to deal with the issues raised by the federal government to make sure that New Mexico’s special education programs were adequately funded.

“They did not enlist the Legislature’s help,” Stewart said in an interview. “Skandera and Martinez could be out of office by the time we have to pay this bill.”

Legislators this year approved a bill that could allocate a total of up to $36 million in 2013 and ’14 to meet all special education funding requirements.

Skandera said she believed money for next year’s programs already was adequately provided in the state’s main budget bill, also approved this year.