Survey Results: Sequestration Cuts Are Hurting Students


At the end of October, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) asked our members to participate in a study conducted by the National Coalition on Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services (NCPSSERS), of which we are an active member. The survey was designed to gather data to help explain to policymakers the effect of funding cuts on services for children and their families, educators, and schools.

These cuts are the result of the 2013 sequestration, the federal initiative that eliminated more than $2 billion from the U.S. Department of Education’s budget, and specifically cut more than $600 million from federal special education programs.

Negotiations are currently underway that may end the sequestration cuts. However, even if these automatic cuts go away, some cuts to education funding are likely to remain.

The survey shows that the impact of federal, state, and local budget cuts on special education is most evident in an increase in caseload and class size; lack of funding to purchase resources such as assistive technology; and reduced professional development opportunities.

In addition, budget cuts have resulted in layoffs and unfilled vacancies, with more than 80% of respondents reporting they have “too few personnel to meet the needs of students with disabilities.” 

“Students with disabilities thrive when they have full access to professionals who have the necessary expertise to address their complex academic, developmental, and behavioral needs. With nearly every state already reporting a shortage of special education professionals, recent budget cuts will only threaten the legal and moral right of students with disabilities to receive special education and related services,” stated Kim Hymes, co-chair of NCPSSERS and senior director for Policy at the Council for Exceptional Children. Heather Parsons, AOTA’s director of Legislative Advocacy added, “having this feedback from school practitioners is enormously important. When we talk to members of Congress they always ask for the numbers, and how these cuts are affecting actual students.”

Here is a summary of the survey’s findings:

  • 94% of respondents say their school district has been impacted by budget cuts over the last year.
  • 83% of respondents say budget cuts have already impacted the delivery of special education services.
  • 82% of respondents say there are “too few personnel to meet the needs of students with disabilities” in their school district.
  • 78% of respondents say budget cuts have resulted in an increase in caseload.
  • 61% of respondents say budget cuts have resulted in an increase in class size.
  • 61% of respondents say they work in a high-poverty school district receiving Title I assistance.
  • 43% of respondents say budget cuts over the last year have been a combination of sequestration and state/local funding cuts.
  • 40% of respondents say that budget cuts have led to unfilled vacancies of school personnel, and nearly one third report layoffs of specialized instructional support personnel and teachers; 30% of respondents state that budget cuts over the last year have been as a result of sequestration.

For additional information, listen to AOTA’s virtual chat on Personnel Shortages, which was co-led by representatives of the American Speech Language Hearing Association and the American School Counselors.

AOTA also recently released a Performance Appraisal document to help administrators assess the “value added” component of occupational therapists. We encourage members to share this in their schools.

AOTA will continue to keep you updated on the results of the current budget negations. The latest information as Congressional action unfolds will be posted here