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Reauthorization Bill 'Fine-Tunes' Special-Ed. Law

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Washington--The chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on the Handicapped last week proposed draft reauthorization legislation making relatively modest changes in federal special-education programs.

Although it contains some initiatives--addressing such areas as the needs of seriously emotionally disturbed children and the nationwide shortage of special educators--the proposal largely focuses on "finetuning" current law, said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa.

Senator Harkin stressed the need for stability in special-education programs, in the wake of legislation approved by the Congress in 1983 and 1986 providing for major expansions of programs for handicapped infants and toddlers.

"We must be careful not to overburden the system by placing major new demands on state and local education agencies as they attempt to implement these important new programs," he said in releasing the draft measure.

Portions of the Education of the Handicapped Act authorizing $170 million in spending for research, dissemination, training, technical as4sistance, and model programs expired Sept. 30. But, under another federal education law, those programs were automatically extended for one year.

Last week's reauthorization proposal was the third such draft in recent weeks. In the House of Representatives, the Republicans and the Democrats on the subcommittee that oversees special-education programs have circulated separate proposals.

Some advocates for the handicapped have expressed concern that the partisan split within the House subcommittee--on an issue where bipartisanship normally prevails--could stall action on the reauthorization. (See Education Week, Sept. 6, 1989.)

All three proposals address the need to recruit and train more special educators. The shortage of trained personnel has been as high as 27,000 in recent years, according to one estimate.

Similarly, each proposal would make federally funded research in the field more accessible to practitioners and parents. And all address the needs of seriously emotionally disturbed children--a population many experts believe falls through the cracks between special-education, juvenile-justice, and mental-health agencies.

Mr. Harkin's proposal also would:

Give priority for grants and contracts to projects addressing the needs of handicapped infants and toddlers and children and youths from racial, ethnic, and linguistic minorities.

Reverse a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibited lawsuits against states for alleged violations of the federal special-education law.

Call for research to address the many changes that a handicapped child faces--including transitions from medical care to school, from residential placements to community-based programs, from separate classrooms to regular classrooms, and from school to work or further study.--dv

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