Special-Ed. Report Backs Diminished Federal Role
Washington--Because state and local special-education officials are ''steadily and effectively" meeting the goals of the federal handicapped-education law, the Education Department (ed) can assume a more subordinate role in educating handicapped children, says a new federal report.
"The federal role in education will be reduced and will increasingly be one of supporting state and local agency priorities," according to the department's fourth annual report to Congress on the implementation of P.L. 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. "Against that background ..., the availability of a free, appropriate public education for all handicapped children is becoming an ever-widening reality as the number of handicapped children being served continues to grow."
"The evaluations of handicapped children and their educational programs are for the most part satisfactory to the children's parents," writes Edward Sontag, the department's director of special-education programs, in the report's introduction. Parents are satisfied with "more than 9,999 out of every 10,000 evaluations conducted, placements offered, or programs provided," according to Mr. Sontag.
The report's conclusions appear to support the Reagan Administration's efforts to consolidate the numerous categorical programs for the education of the handicapped, to alter or eliminate many federal regulations considered "burdensome," and to reduce the amount of federal funds provided to states and school systems.
Nevertheless, the document cites findings from several studies indicating that many state and local agencies have added their own requirements to the federal P.L. 94-142 regulations and are becoming more comfortable with the paperwork and reporting they entail. In the instance of the individualized education plans (iep's) required by the law, for example, a survey of 20 districts in 16 states found that officials in 18 believed that "despite the time and paperwork involved, the iep process was worthwhile."
In addition, the report cites data gathered during visits to 21 states by officials of the federal agency's special-education division, who "found that none of the 21 states visited were effectively identifying all problems in educating handicapped children."
Both the number of students receiving special education and the number of special-education teachers has grown steadily since the law was enacted in 1975, the report says. Nonetheless, more children remain to be identified and placed in special-education classes, and school systems will continue to require additional teachers to serve them, the report continues.
Although the total of number of handicapped children receiving special-education services grew from 3.7 million in 1976 to 4.1 million in 1981, children in numerous states are forced to wait for evaluations that would determine their special-education needs, the report says.
The report cites results of a study conducted by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, in which special-educa-tion officials from 36 states reported that "waiting lists of students requiring evaluations existed among some portion of their districts.'' That study also found that only 27 states have developed timetables for evaluation procedures.
Regarding special-education personnel, the report says states require more special-education teachers--in particular, teachers of "multi-handicapped, emotionally disturbed, hearing-impaired, and orthopedically impaired" children. Between the 1980-81 school year and the current school year, school systems needed more than 43,000 new special-education teachers and more than 47,000 new related-services personnel, according to the document.
The annual report praised the quality of state special-education offices, which it claims "have systematically been improving their administration of educational programs and services for handicapped children. ... Significant progress has been made ... in establishing authority for general super-vision and in initiating a process for monitoring public agency programs for handicapped children."
The report cited a federally funded study of nine state education departments, conducted by Education Turnkey Systems here, which found that "special education had been elevated in the organizational hierarchy of the state education agencies, and that there had been an increase in the size of the special-education staffs and in special-education expenditures."
The federal government's monitoring activities regarding the handicapped-education law have undergone changes under the Reagan Administration, according to the report.
Those changes include:
Receiving and approving three-year state plans for educating handicapped children, instead of one-year plans, "a new arrangement that significantly reduced the time and paperwork each state incurred in applying for their federal entitlements."
Emphasizing "off-site" monitoring, rather than visits to states and school systems. The new practice uses information provided by the states, complaints received against states and school systems, and data collected from other federal agencies.
Sharing compliance activities between two ed offices--the division of special-education programs and the office for civil rights--when complaints involve overlapping provisions of P.L. 94-142 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Among other findings in the report about the national special-education population:
Since the 1979-80 school year, there have been significant increases in the number of children served within certain categories of handicapping conditions--emotionally disturbed (21,018), multi-handicapped (9,691), and learning disabled (162,701).
An increasing number of youths between the ages of 18 and 21 are being provided services by the public schools. The rate of growth for this population was 13 percent, compared to a 3-percent growth rate for children ages 3 to 17.
Less that 7 percent of the handicapped children served are receiving their education in settings other than regular education buildings.
However, while the number of handicapped children being educated in regular classes increased by more than 200,000 last year, the number of students in separate classes grew by 5 percent, and the number in separate schools by 42 percent.
Compared to the "great activity" in previous years, according to one study, in the 1980-81 year there was little overall expansion of programs for handicapped children. But programs for secondary-school students did grow somewhat.
The Education Department's annual report asserts that "the most significant" changes in federal activity regarding the handicapped-education law "have centered around the review of P.L. 94-142 regulations.''
Nineteen sections of regulations are currently in the final stages of review; proposed revisions are scheduled to be published next month in the Federal Register.