The New Hampshire Department of Education is hoping to repurpose $10 million in unspent federal funds earmarked for special education.
The funds have accumulated over the last decade, and make up a small percentage of the $43 million for special education the state receives annually from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs.
The funds are meant for school districts that submitted budgets based on the needs and numbers of students with individualized education plans, known as IEP's.
The total cost for New Hampshire's 29,171 IEP students far exceeds the $43 million from the federal government; the state kicks in approximately $79 million, and districts cover the rest of the cost.
Carl Ladd, Executive Director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, says needs range from an occasional speech pathologist to hiring a paraeducator to work one-on-one with a student throughout the day.
DOE Commissioner Frank Edelbut attributed the underspending to how districts manage funds.
"Yearly, we hear of the high costs districts incur to properly support special education students," he said in a press release. "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."
According to DOE data, in FY 2016-2017, Claremont SAU had the largest amount of unused funds: $88,648.57. The Hooksett SAU left over $45,000, and Hampstead left nearly $27,000.
Ladd says the reason might be far simpler: districts' budgets can change dramatically if a student with special needs moves out of the district, or if a district can't hire the specialist it had budgeted for because of a workforce shortage.
"If there are no bodies to put in those grant positions, just because you've written the grant, it doesn't mean that they are going to be filled," Ladd said. "Schools get an awful lot of criticism for spending money they don't need to spend, and when they try to not spend, then they get criticized for not spending it all."
The state DOE filed a plan with the U.S. DOE to keep the money and disperse it within the next few years, rather than send it back to the federal government.
Note: This story has been corrected. An earlier version miscalculated the funds that the state DOE sends to districts by only including the $57 million that goes to schools through adequacy aid. The actual number is approximately $79 million, which includes $22 million in special ed aid.