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SC Headed To Court Over $36M Federal Funding Cut

South Carolina is headed to court in hopes of avoiding a $36 million penalty imposed by the U.S. Department of Education for not spending enough on special education during the recession. The U.S. Department of Education has a rule that states have to get federal approval before they cut funding for special education teachers, classroom aides, adaptive technologies and other programs for students with disabilities. In 2010, South Carolina requested permission to reduce that spending, but state department of education spokesman Jay Ragley says the answer didn't come back for more than a year. "They dragged their feet trying to make a decision about whether to grant a waiver to the state or not," says Ragley. "They took so long that the fiscal year in question ended and there was nothing the state could do to rectify the situation. Seems rather unfair to us." The U.S. Department of Education says the unfair thing was the disproportionate cut South Carolina made to special education. As punishment, South Carolina's federal special education funds will be cut by an amount equal to the state cut - $36 million. South Carolina education officials insist the cuts were not out-of-whack with overall education reductions the state made during the economic downturn. They've appealed the penalty and asked for a hearing, but U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has now ruled South Carolina doesn't have the right to appeal it. So South Carolina plans to challenge that in court, says Ragley. "We're working on our legal briefs and our legal maneuvering as we speak right now to try get a decision about whether or not a federal court will stay this matter before October 1 when the cut would take effect," says Ragley. If a judge doesn't intervene by then, Ragley says South Carolina lawmakers have tentatively agreed to spend $36 million additional dollars plugging that gap. The U.S. Department of Education says seven states have requested permission to cut special education funding. Only South Carolina and Iowa have faced penalties for making cuts without approval.