CONCORD, NH – The New Hampshire Department of Education, following a series of conversations with federal government officials, last week filed a plan with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to repurpose approximately $10.3 million in grants that have not been used by local school districts.
Currently, the state receives around $43 million annually from the federal government to support students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). The funds are dispersed on a formulaic basis – districts submit budgets for allowable usage of the funds and then, draw them down during a 27 month period.
Unused funds are retained at the state level. At the end of September 2018, approximately $10.3 million had not been used by districts. These funds include $9.8 million from previous grants during at least the past 10-years and about $500,000 unused during the last fiscal year.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig has initiated a discussion with Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut to secure some of the money for Manchester schools.
“I spoke with deputy commissioner Christine Brennan and Commissioner Frank Edeblut regarding the $10 million in unspent special education funds. In that conversation Commissioner Edeblut said they are working to ensure the money is reallocated to communities in need. I communicated to both of them that the Manchester School District is in need of additional funds to cover the significant increase we’re seeing in special education costs, and any money they can reallocate to our community will greatly help our students,” Craig said on Saturday.
In exploring the causes for unused IDEA special education grant funds, the NH DOE observed inconsistency with school districts. But instead of having the money sit idle, Edelblut has petitioned the federal government to allow the grant money to be repurposed back to schools.
“Yearly, we hear of the high costs districts incur to properly support special education students,” noted Edelblut. “Some districts manage funds very closely and fully use all available grant funds; others, it appears, provide less oversight of grant funds, resulting in unused grant fund allocations. However, in this environment, we are surprised that districts have not taken advantage of available federal grants.”
Gov. Chris Sununu agreed.
“Government cannot guarantee much,” Sununu said, “but it can and should guarantee freedom of opportunity, especially for our students. While I am surprised that all funding has not been utilized in the past, I am confident that, upon approval by the federal government, the department’s plan will ensure greater opportunity for our students going forward.”
If the grants remain unused during the repurposing phase, the money will be returned to the federal government.
The federal government is expected to make a ruling on the request later this month. If approved, the NH DOE will create a multi-year timetable for dispersing the funds and will work with districts to establish better fiscal controls when utilizing these – and other – federal grants.