Under the federal No Child Left Behind act, all special educators must become "highly qualified" in all areas they teach, meaning they must pass rigorous tests or earn college degrees in each area.
In Utah, that has meant, for example, that teachers must master college algebra when working with high schoolers who haven't even mastered multiplication tables, a requirement teachers believe is unnecessary.
"I don't think the people who came up with the policy understood what special education teachers do and what their roles are," said Fred Weintraub, a special education advocate honored at the Council for Exceptional Children Convention. "The rules are too simplified, and the result was that what sounded good on the surface began to make very little sense in the real world."
Utah's director for special education, Nan Gray, agrees.
"Highly qualified status is a challenge right now for special educators," Gray said. "School districts and the state support teachers becoming highly qualified with continued professional development and any other way we can."
However, a recent 1 percent cut in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act budget has state officials making their own small budget cuts in professional development programs in order to ensure student programming isn't hurt.
The federal government has never fully funded IDEA, which President Bush signed into law in 2004. Bush mandated incremental funding levels to arrive at full funding - 40 percent of each student's education cost - by 2011.
However, in Bush's most recent budget proposal, he funded IDEA at 17 percent, a decrease from 2005.
"Hopefully, Congress will work in a way to fully fund IDEA," she said. "We've been watching congressional activity, and we're optimistic there won't be cuts next year."
Utah isn't alone in feeling the effects of the cut.
"A lack of federal funding doesn't stop kids from getting a special education," Weintraub said. "But it creates a bigger burden on states and communities."