Federal Laws on Handicapped Are Needed, Officials Insist
Louisville--State administrators of special education strongly oppose what they believe are the Reagan Administration's moves "to get rid of" federal programs for the handicapped.
Reacting at their annual meeting here to what they see as the Administration's explicit signals to the states, the special-education administrators called current efforts to cut federal spending and increase state control over programs through block grants the "first steps toward repeal" of federal laws for the handicapped.
Samuel Bonham, a former president of the National Association of State Directors of Spe6cial Education (nasdse) who works for the Ohio Department of Education, said education programs for the handicapped, the disadvantaged, minorities, and women have been reduced to the status of "inherited priorities" by an Administration that is "determined to get rid of" both the programs and the priorities.
"These are the priorities [Administration officials] don't like," Mr. Bonham said, "and have said so." He said the Administration has given "highest priority" status to the education areas of basic skills, competency-based achievement criteria, and private education.
Speaking to more than 100 nasdse members representing the states and territories, Mr. Bonham said deregulation of P.L. 94142, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, by itself poses no threat to special education. But coupled with the Administration's current fiscal policy, the move is cause for concern.
Last year, the U.S. Congress appropriated some $1.02 billion for education programs for the handicapped; the President has recommended reducing that level in 1982 by $237 million, to $783 million. If that recommendation is accepted by the Congress, programs for the handicapped would be reduced by 23 percent.
The Administration also is reviewing four general areas of federal laws governing education of the handicapped and 17 regulatory secinued on Page 10
tions of the relevant laws. As a result of the regulatory review, the definition of handicapped children and "learning disabilities" could be substantially changed.
In addition, Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act is slated for review by a Presidentially-appointed task force chaired by Vice President George Bush.
In a position paper it prepared last spring in response to a U.S. Department of Education request for its views on deregulation of P.L. 94-142, nasdse's board of directors said that state education agencies are "committed to the continued support of the education of all handicapped children and feel strongly that there must be a continued, strong directional statement in federal law in behalf of the the nation's handicapped children."
The nasdse report, submitted to the Council of Chief State School Officers, recommended changes in existing regulations that would fo-cus them more on "outcomes," while leaving "procedural details" to state and local agencies.
It urged, however, that "the goals of P.L. 94-142 or substitute federal legislation be guaranteed." Those goals are:
The right of all handicapped children to a free, appropriate education in instruction settings suitable to their needs.
The protection of the rights of handicapped children and their parents.
Financial assistance to state education agencies and local education3agencies to provide for the education of all handicapped children.
Assessment to insure the effectiveness of efforts to educate handicapped children.
Judy Schrag of the Washington State Department of Education, a member of the nasdse task force, said special education "needs strong federal direction.
"We're all for the law," Ms. Schrag said. "Everyone is in agreement that it must not be repealed and some minor revision is an alternative."
Mr. Bonham said there is "confusion" in the regulations.
They do not, he said, reflect the "changing technology of special education." But he cautioned against "meddling with the law.
"We must maintain firmly and unwaveringly that the principles of the law are perfect and implementation of the law is still not completed," he said.
Opposed to Deregulation
But some special-education administrators at the meeting were adamant in their opposition to deregulation of laws governed federal programs for the handicapped.
Roger Brown, associate commissioner for special education in Massachusetts, said any moves to deregulate would weaken the position of the handicapped across the country. He said the problems that exist in current regulations can be worked out through interagency cooperation.
"We've come this far on prescriptive legislation," Mr. Brown said. "There will be slippage if we stop it."