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Special Education Column

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As special-education administrators have long been painfully aware, the Congress has not lived up to a promise made to the states 14 years ago when the Education of the Handicapped Act was passed.

While the law pledged that the federal government would provide up to 40 percent of the average cost of educating a handicapped child, the federal share, in reality, has never exceeded 12 percent. States and local school districts have had to pick up the rest of the tab.

In an effort to correct that imbalance, U.S. Representative Les AuCoin, Democrat of Oregon, has introduced a resolution calling for increasing the federal government's share of the average per-pupil cost to at least 15 percent over the next two years. Such an increase would require an infusion of $1.2 billion into federal special-education programs by 1991.

Even if the resolution passes, there are no guarantees, according to an aide to Mr. AuCoin, that the Congress will "put its money where its mouth is." A resolution, unlike a bill, indicates the "sense of the Congress" and little else.

But Mr. AuCoin is a member of the powerful House Committee on Appropriations and is said by the aide to be stepping into the special-education arena--partly to help fill the void created by the departure of Senator Lowell Weicker. The Connecticut Republican, who was defeated in his bid for re-election last year, had been known as a champion of special-education funding.

Emotionally disturbed black students in Dade County, Fla., tend to be placed in less expensive residential treatment centers than their white counterparts, according to a school-district survey.

Of the 66 black students the school system has placed since 1986, 58 were found to have been sent to the least expensive center available, the Montanari Residential Treatment Center, which costs $27.50 a day. The remaining eight were sent to the second-cheapest facility available to the schools, the Eckerd Family Youth Alternatives in nearby Clewiston. Charges there are $59.65 a day.

In contrast, 37 white students were sent to Montanari and one went to Eckerd.

Twenty-four other white pupils were placed in more expensive schools--many of them out of state. The costs ranged from $66.20 to $415 a day.

The survey also found that Hispanic students were greatly underrepresented in residential special-education programs.

"It indicates that black students don't have enough in the way of effective advocacy," said Janet McAliley, the Dade County school-board member who requested the study.

Handicapped children may prefer to get the special help they need from their regular classroom teacher rather than a specialist, according to a new study.

In a survey of 686 handicapped, remedial and regular education students in grades 2, 4, and 5, researchers found that, when given a choice between receiving extra help from their teacher or from a specialist, the vast majority of children chose the teacher--regardless of whether they were being served in their regular classrooms or being "pulled out" for help in separate resource rooms.

"The reason most often given by all students was that the classroom teacher 'knows what I need,"' write the study's authors, Joseph R. Jenkins, a University of Washington professor of special education, and Amy Heinen, a teacher in Kirkland, Wash.

"Students seem to recognize the difficulty that specialists and classroom teachers have in coordinating their instruction," the researchers say, "and believe that instruction from a specialist may be of limited help in solving their classroom learning problems."

The study, which also examined students' preferences for where they should receive special-education services, is described in the April issue of the journal Exceptional Children.

An Idaho special-education teacher is forming an interscholastic high-school basketball league to help his students experience "the thrill of competition."

Floyd Strain, who teaches English to handicapped students at Nampa High School, says four other schools in the Nampa area have expressed interest in joining his fledgling league, which now boasts two teams. He said the after-school games have drawn crowds of as many as 300 people.

"For a lot of these kids, if they've been in adaptive physical education, they've been going up and down stairs or rolling a ball back and forth," Mr. Strain notes. "Basketball is something entirely new to them."

The National Information Center on Deafness at Gallaudet University in Washington is offering several new publications on deafness and hearing loss for children and those who teach them.

They include a series of three booklets for children--"Growing Up Without Hearing," "How Deaf People Communicate," and "The Ear and Hearing"--as well as a teacher's activity book to supplement the booklets. The booklets cost 50 cents each and the teacher's guide is $2.

More information on these and other nicd publications is available from the National Information Center on Deafness, Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Ave., N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002; phone: (202) 651-5051 (voice) or (202) 651-5052 (TDD).--dv

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