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Massachusetts Cites Success of Special-Ed. Law

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Massachusetts' 10-year-old special-education law, which has received wide support throughout the state, has significantly improved the range of educational services available to the handicapped, according to the findings of a recently released two-year evaluation of the law.

But the report, entitled "Implementing Massachusetts' Special Education Law: A Statewide Assessment," also points out that there are still other issues--particularly rising transportation costs and the trend toward enrolling special-education students in expensive private schools--that must be addressed and may require additional legislation.

The comprehensive evaluation of Chapter 766, the state's special-education law, which was enacted in 1972 and became the model for the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, draws on the results of several research efforts: 15 case studies conducted by the Huron Institute of Cambridge, Mass., a survey conducted by the Gallup Organization of New Jersey, and several other studies.

Because Massachusetts has offered comprehensive special-education services longer than most states, officials there believe the report might be useful to special-education authorities in other states.

Paid for by the state department of education and the U.S. Education Department's Office of Special Education, the report notes that the state law has "accomplished its major objective, making a range of special-education services available to all handicapped youngsters from age 3 to age 21."

Citing the results of the Gallup survey, the report adds that more than 75 percent of the state's educators and education-related groups "believed that the quality of special education in the public schools was better than it had been 10 years ago. Only 3 percent of parents with children in special education at the elementary-school level and 7 percent of those with children at the secondary level believed their children had not improved since being enrolled in special education."

Madeline S. Mooney, assistant to the state's associate commissioner of special education, said the survey's results "paint a picture of a very successful program, especially if you look at the public's favorable perception. It's not the kind of support you get these days for public education."

However, in the coming months, said Ms. Mooney, the state's special-education office will be "taking a good look" at the report's findings on the program's shortcomings to determine the proper course of action.

Among the issues to be discussed are the rising cost of transporting special-education students and placing them in private schools. Local school districts are required to pay tuition when private schools are deemed "appropriate" placements for special-education students. The report noted that the number of private-school placements has been increasing despite "the movement to bring students back" into public-school programs to reduce costs.

In fiscal 1980, according to the report, transportation costs constituted about 11 percent of the total special-education budget. In contrast, the state spent 6 percent of its general-education funds on transportation.

"Total expenditures on special-education transportation have been increasing at a much faster rate than regular day transportation costs and have more than doubled since fiscal 1975, while ridership has remained constant," the report adds.

Under Chapter 766, the state's financial support grew from about $450 million in 1973 to more than $900 million in 1980, according to the report. The number of special-education students enrolled in programs increased from about 81,300 in 1974 to about 133,792 in 1979.

Contributing to that growth in state costs, the report notes, was the rapid growth in expenses for out-of-district placements, tuition, and "collaborative" expenditures. In three years, the cost of supporting students in private institutions increased by 88 percent, from $27.3 million in fiscal 1977 to $51.4 million in fiscal 1980, according to the report.

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