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W.Va. Tightens Its Spec.-Ed. Criteria

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In an effort to lessen the potential for over-assignment of children to special-education programs, West Virginia officials have tightened the criteria for classifying students as handicapped or gifted.

The new regulations, which were formally approved last month by the state board of education, will result in a reduction of 10,000 special-education students and 1,600 staff positions statewide over the next five years, state officials said.

Approximately 13 percent of West Virginia's students now receive special-education services. In comparison, just under 11 percent of all students nationally are classified as handicapped.

Across school districts, the percentages of special-education students range from a low of 9 percent in Mingo County to 32 percent in Pendleton County, state officials said.

"The legislature felt that there were counties that were over-identifying children in order to get the funding," said John Pisapia, the assistant state superintendent in charge of general, special, and professional education.

"We looked at the current regulations and we thought they were kind of loosely defined," he added.

But at least one state school-board member said the regulatory changes were driven more by fiscal than educational concerns.

"If the legislature hadn't been in such desperate straits for money, this thing wouldn't have happened," said the board member, Richard Schnacke.

Last year, as a way to cut special-education costs, the legislature had proposed placing a cap on the number of students who could qualify for special education.

Mr. Schnacke said the school board approved the new regulations, in part, to discourage lawmakers from proposing such strong actions in the future. State officials estimate that the new criteria could save $29 million over five years.

--dv

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