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Study Is Critical of Handicapped Law

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Since the 1975 enactment of the federal law on the education of the handicapped, its implementation has been hampered by a variety of continuing difficulties, says a new study.

It cites, among other problems: "turf battles" among state agencies, conflicting state and federal regulations, inadequate federal funding, and confusion and disagreement over who is responsible for what in carrying out the mandates of the law at state and local levels.

Conducted by Education Turnkey Systems for the Department of Education's Office of Special Education, P.L. 94-142: A Study of the Implementation and Impact at the State Level, includes an in-depth study of nine state education agencies and examines "legal, contextual and other constraints [that] could explain why Federal and Congressional expectations are not being met and identify the limits of Federal policy influence."

Not as Congress Intended

The study firmly states that some parts of P.L. 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, are "not working as Congress had intended," a problem that "strongly supports a recommendation" that certain provisions be changed.

The most serious problem, according to the study, is the "supervisory provision" of the law, which requires that state education agencies (sea's) monitor and evaluate all programs for the deaf, blind and mentally retarded even though the programs may not be within the traditional jurisdiction of the sea The state agency is required, among other things to establish policy and procedures for staff-training programs, recovering misspent funds, record-keeping and general compliance with special-education laws for the handicapped.

In this sense, the study points out, P.L. 94-142 is unique. It is the first major education law which permits states to be treated differently, and unlike much other education legislation, it mandates that responsibility for implementing the law specifically be with state education agencies.

The study found that the attempts by sea's to fulfill the supervisory requirement resulted in "unintended or unforeseen consquences," such as "turf battles" among various state agencies with some responsibilities for serving handicapped (such as health and welfare agencies), and causing some actually to withdraw their services.

The study concludes that sea's are not organized and do not have the necessary authority to continue the supervisory responsibility required of them.

The study also examined the impact of P.L. 94-142 on state departments of special education (dse's)--the divisions of the state governments that, until passage of The Education Amendments of 1978, were the primary agencies to administer the law on a day-to-day basis.

The study found that the increased staff time and effort required to monitor and enforce compliance with the law "resulted in high dse staff turnover in some states and in lower staff morale in all dse's."

Staff time and effort spent in due-process hearings and related matters, the report states, have increased significantly over the past five years, and in four of the nine dse's studied, a full-time lawyer has been hired.

There have also been increases in the numbers of professional staff--6as much as 300 percent in some cases--and sharp increases in budgets.

A number of "unintended consequences," according to the report, are associated with the definition and funding of "related services," such as transportation, physical and occupational therapy, medical services, and counseling.

Further Opposition Warned

And the report warned that attempts by federal officials from within the Office of Special Education to define and uniformly apply the "related services" provision could "further increase the opposition to special education within the states."

In a section on policy implications and recommendations, the report points out:

That major implementation problems are most likely to arise when there are conflicts between federal laws and state laws and when the traditional roles of sea's have to be changed.

That the supervisory provision of the law has not been fully implemented and it should either be amended or "clarified through regulatory interpretative rulings."

That many of the problems in carrying out P.L. 94-142 are related to conflicts between between state and federal regulations. "One can legitimately question the need for detailed federal regulations in programs which are mature and in which there exists the possibility that one child may be legitimately served under two or more categorical programs," the report states.

And it adds: "General 'loosening up' of regulations will probably result in local education agencies adhering to the intent of the law, while minimizing duplicative services, staff time, and other administrative anxieties and costs."

That the Office of Special Education in the Education Department provide technical assistance to sea's and work more closely with state officials to make sure that responsibilities and procedures for implementing P.L. 94-142 are clearly understood.

Part B of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act is one of many provisions currently under review by the Reagan Administration for deregulation in March or April 1982. The Education Department has outlined four general areas of the law--definitions, grants administration, services, and procedural safeguards--for possible deregulation.

Within those four general areas, 17 individual regulations are sched3uled for review. Those include:

Definitions of handicapped children, specific learning disabilities, special education, and related services;

"Free appropriate public education," extended school-year program, out-of-state placement of handicapped children, individualized-education programs, services provided to children placed in private schools by their parents, comprehensive system of personnel development;

Least restrictive environment, due-process procedures, nondiscrimination in evaluation procedures, confidentiality of information, surrogate parents;

Allocation of funds, state advisory panels, local educational agency applications and state plans.

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