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G.A.O. Suggests Merger of Chapter 1 Special-Ed. Program

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Washington--The federal Chapter 1 program for handicapped children should be merged with other federal special-education efforts, a new report by the General Accounting Office concludes.

"Although enacted at different times to serve handicapped students' needs," the Congressional watchdog agency argues in the report, the Chapter 1 program for the handicapped and the programs administered under the Education of the Handicapped Act "are now similar in many ways."

"If separate funding is maintained for the Chapter 1 handicapped program, the programs could be merged," the study maintains.

The program was created by a 1965 law, pl 89-313, and is administered separately from the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program for disadvantaged pupils. It serves 259,000 handicapped children in schools and state-operated institutions.

The special-education programs operated under the eha are substantially larger, serving 4.2 million youths.

The merger proposal has been raised intermittently ever since the passage in 1975 of the cornerstone of the eha, the Education For All Handicapped Children Act, or pl 94-142. The idea is the most sweeping of a number of potentially controversial changes recommended in the report.

The Congressionally mandated study also calls for limiting eligibility for the separate Chapter 1 program to students with severe handicaps.

In addition, it recommends allocating funds for the $151-million program on the basis of each state's share of all handicapped children, rather than on the number of such children served in state Chapter 1 programs.

Winners, Losers

Four states--Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania--have made particularly heavy use of the Chapter 1 handicapped program. They receive nearly half of all program funds, the study found.

Such funding imbalances, the study indicates, are created in part because the law allows states to augment their child counts with large numbers of the less severely handicapped, most of whom are served in Chapter 1-funded preschool programs. In contrast, many such mildly disabled children in other states are served under eha-funded programs.

One reason that some states have chosen to rely more heavily on Chapter 1 is that they receive a larger allocation for each pupil under that program than they do under the eha

The gao contends that the original intent of the Chapter 1 program was to serve only students with severe disabilities.

The 1965 law "specified only that funds were to be used to serve handicapped children for whom the state was directly responsible for providing free public education," the report says. "At that time, the bulk of this group was severely handicapped children."

If the Congress were to restrict the program to severely disabled children and change the funding mechanism to reflect more nearly the size of a state's handicapped population, 37 states would stand to gain Chapter 1 funds, while 13 states and the District of Columbia would receive smaller allocations, according to the agency's calculations.

"Over the years, the states have chosen varying directions in using 89-313 versus 94-142 funds," Frederick J. Weintraub, a lobbyist for the Council for Exceptional Children, said last week. "If you merge the two together, do you want to penalize those states that tended in the direction of maximizing their 89-313 funds?"

Keyed to Congressional Action

"It's a political hot potato," he added. "If the Congress wants to merge the two together, it can be done without hurting anyone. But the4gao report doesn't provide the guidance for doing that."

The study also argues that the program should be merged with the eha because both efforts "serve students of similar ages and with similar kinds of handicapping conditions, use program funds to supplement state and local services, count children for funding-allocation purposes on the same day each year, and are concurrently monitored at the federal level."

Completion of the 81-page study, entitled "Congressional Action Needed To Improve Chapter 1 Handicapped Program," was timed to coincide with legislation reauthorizing major parts of the eha But a Congressional aide said last week that it was unlikely that the changes recommended would be considered this year.

"There are just too many ramifications, and we'd have to have a lot of input," said Patricia Laird, a legislative analyst for the House Subcommittee on Select Education. "We'll have to take it up next time around," when the Congress reconsiders other parts of the law in 1991.

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