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Commission Suggests Ways To Reduce Special-Education Costs

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Washington--A national commission of educators has concluded, in a report presented recently to the Congress, that the problems associated with the financing of special-education programs can be solved through a combination of administrative and programmatic changes.

Moreover, the Commission on Financing of a Free and Appropriate Education for Special Needs Children contends that the success of state and local programs for the handicapped depends on continued "federal leadership."

In its examination of the issues in special education, the 17-member panel reached a consensus on six recommendations for reducing program costs and improving services for the handicapped.

The report was delivered on March 16 to the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Select Education, according to Nancy Zollers of Research for Better Schools (rbs), a Philadelphia-based, nonprofit educational agency, which organized the commission's work.

Ms. Zollers said the report is intended to clarify the issues surrounding the implementation of P.L. 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act.

"There were some faulty assumptions regarding 94-142 and it was creating a foggy environment," Ms. Zollers said. "There are important issues being discussed in Washington and we wanted to bring the discussion to a different level."

"The attempted repeal [of the law] and the proposed changes in the regulations told us there was a role for a group to get beyond the politics of the situation," Ms. Zollers added. "It was clear to us that whatever happened, state and local [educators] were going to have a lot of obligations to the handicapped and they would need clear ideas [about how to approach those obligations]."

In the report, the commission recommends that school districts and state agencies establish "more flexible and individual options" in regular programs and develop standards that clearly define which state and local agencies have financial responsibility for related services.

The commission's report also suggests that state and local education officials coordinate their activities so that the financial burden of "unusually expensive" services are shared by cooperating agencies. States, to avoid unnecessary and costly institutional care, should develop community-based residential programs in conjunction with school districts, according to the report.

To reduce legal expenses and at the same time protect procedural safeguards, school districts should adopt "a broad range of dispute-resolution strategies and techniques" that involve the parents of handicapped children, the report states.

In addition, the Congress and the Education Department should target a portion of the current discretionary funds to encourage state and local education agencies to implement the commission's recommendations, according to the report.

The commission members involved in the preparation of the report were: Teresalee Bertinuson, Connecticut state representative; Rosemary Clarke, president of the Nevada State Board of Education; June Gabler, superintendent, Woodhaven, Mich., school district; Henry Marshall, associate superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District; Lorraine McDonnell, social scientist, Rand Corp.; Floretta Dukes McKenzie, superintendent, District of Columbia public schools; and Jean Garvin, special education director, Vermont Department of Education.

Others serving on the panel included Martin Gerry, counsel to the Wednesday Group, U.S. House of Representatives; David Hornbeck, superintendent, Maryland Department of Education; John H. Noble Jr., assistant commissioner, Virginia Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation; Allan Odden, director of policy analysis and research, Education Commission of the States; Richard A. Rossmiller, professor of education,University of Wisconsin; Phillip R. Jones, professor of education,Virginia Polytechnical Institute and State University; John Lancaster, director, Maryland Governor's Office on Coordination of Services to the Handicapped; Joan W. Levy, president, New Trier, Ill., school board; Lisa Walker, assistant director of Institute for Educational Leadership; and Fred Weintraub, assistant executive director for governmental relations, Council of Exceptional Children.

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