Classifications at Heart of Debate Over Funding
The threat of curtailed federal funding for state special-education programs that have grown too large to fit the terms of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act adds new fuel to a debate over inclusiveness that has been simmering--in one form or another--since the bill was first enacted a decade ago.
Frederick J. Weintraub, with the governmental relations department for the Council for Exceptional Children and one of the major architects of P.L. 94-142, said the 12 percent cap was initially written into the law because "people were anxious about whether there would be an overplacing of kids in special education."
The law also placed a cap on the number of learning-disabled children allowed to be included from each state, he noted, but that cap was lifted several years after the law went into effect.
To some observers, dramatic in the learning-disabled population--from 797,213 in 1976-77 to 1.8 million in 1983-84--is at the heart of the current controversy.
Mr. Weintraub said drafters of the original bill "knew the time would come when we would need to look at this."
But advocates for exceptional children, he said, "believe there are kids who may need special-education services who may not be classically handicapped, and the question, therefore, is to what degree they should be covered under P.L. 94-142."
"Obviously there are children who will not clinically meet the definition of handicapped," Mr. Weintraub said, "but who still need the assistance provided by special education. We think there needs to be a careful examination of the appropriate ways of extending special-educa-tion services-- and perhaps a look at alternative sources of funding."
Lisa J. Walker, vice-president of the Institute for Educational Leadership and previously a moving force behind the creation of P.L. 94-142 as a Senate staff member, said a number of issues have contributed to the growth in the special-education population. Among them, she said, is an increased awareness on the part of parents and schools of the need to serve special-education students.
"Massachusetts has been an early server," said Ms. Walker, noting that the state's special-education law served as a model for P.L. 94-142.
She also said the declining compensatory-education funds available under Chapter 1 have given some schools few options--other than special-education programs--for dealing with children with learning problems. These children may not technically be learning-disabled, she said, but they may require special help for which no programs exist.
"P.L. 94-142 may be the only available source of funding and services for those with learning problems," she said.
Mr. Weintraub, however, cautioned against expecting the lifting of the 12 percent cap to eliminate such resource problems.
"All you would succeed in doing, in a sense, is reducing the amount of funding per child," he said.
But Mr. Weintraub said he was not surprised that the current controversy over child counts had emerged.
"I'm a firm believer that there's probably nothing written except the Ten Commandments that doesn't need to be changed," he said. "Laws need to be living documents and not chiseled in stone."--at