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Vermont Acts To Stem IncreaseIn the Cost of Special Education

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The Vermont legislature has passed a comprehensive measure aimed at curbing the skyrocketing costs of placing handicapped students in residential facilities.

The plan, which was passed days before the legislature adjourned on May 7, was opposed by parents and some advocates for handicapped students in the state.

A key provision of the plan is the creation of a state-level team to review all residential special-education placements both before and after they are made.

The package would also:

Establish a one-year commission to review all special-education costs and develop a three-year plan for controlling them;

Require parents who unilaterally place their children in residential facilities and hope to be reimbursed to apply to the state within 90 days of enrollment; and,

Make mainstreaming a goal of the individualized education plans prepared for students placed in residential facilities.

The package is currently pending before the governor.

Even though the state's costs for residential placements accounted for only about 6 percent of the $32-million special-education budget this year, such expenditures have risen more than 100 percent over the last two years, according to Marc Hull, the state director of special education.

"What we find in Vermont is that we lack a solid continuum of services," Mr. Hull said. "We have children going from the resource room right into the residential school."

The tougher "cost-control" measures came during a session that drew much public attention to special-education costs.

Spending Increase Set

In addition to trying to control costs, the legislature approved a dramatic 39 percent increase in state special-education spending in order to comply with a new school-funding formula.

The formula, which was passed by lawmakers last year, requires the state to shoulder 42 percent of school-district costs for educating handicapped children in the 1990 fiscal year.

To meet that goal, the administration's budget request originally called for a 16 percent increase in special-education spending. But the increase was hiked to 39 percent after school districts' actual costs were calculated for the first time this year as part of the new formula.

"To go from 16 percent, which was already a big jump, to 39 percent," Mr. Hull said, "you can imagine what the press has been like with that."

In other education issues, the legislature also passed a measure to increase state supervision of some private schools and gave state officials permission--but no funding--to set up a unique statewide program to assess students' academic progress. The program would make Vermont the first state in the nation to assess student performance on the basis of work portfolios as well as test scores. (See Education Week, Oct. 26, 1988.)--dv

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