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Casey Calls for Revisions in Pa.'s Aid System for Spec. Ed.

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In an effort to resolve Pennsylvania's prolonged crisis over special-education funding, Gov. Robert P. Casey last week called for basic changes in the way the state pays for services to handicapped children.

Mr. Casey's plan, included in his annual budget message, would bring the state's special-education system more into line with its mechanism for funding regular education.

Currently, school districts receive a portion of state aid for special education at the beginning of each school year. If they spend more than that amount during the year, the state must make up the difference.

In recent years, however, the state has been unable to make those payments, resulting in a mounting deficit in the its special-education budget. Intense controversy over the issue led to the resignation last year of the state secretary of education, Thomas K. Gilhool. (See Education Week, June 14, 1989.)

In place of that system, Mr. Casey proposed providing aid purely on a reimbursement basis.

He also said he would introduce legislation to give control over special-education costs to local school boards. That would mean the state's 32 intermediate units, which now are directly funded by the state to provide regional special-education services, would have to contract with local school districts.

To ease the transition to the new system, Mr. Casey called for boosting state special-education funding by 9 percent, to $380 million.

Shifting the Burden?

But some education groups said last week that the proposed changes would shift the financial burden to local districts.

"What we're seeing is the Commonwealth walking away from its responsiblity to share the costs of special education," said Thomas Gentzel, a lobbyist for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

He noted that the proposed funding increase would be reduced by an $83-million shortfall already accumulated this year for special-education services. In addition, he said, it comes at a time when state officials are considering new rules that could further increase special-education costs, at least in the short term. (See Education Week, Jan. 31, 1990.)

Aides to the Governor responded that the budget also includes a $5-million allocation to support one of the most costly items in the proposed special-education rules--creation of "instructional-support teams'' to work with every student who has trouble learning.

Mr. Casey's cost-control plan was part of a $12.3-billion budget containing modest increases for education. His proposal to increase basic education spending by about 4 percent--or $180 million--represents the smallest such increase in several years, according to education lobbyists.

The Governor also called for raising the minimum starting salary for teachers from $18,500 to $21,000. He offered state funds to help districts pay for the increase.--dv

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