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Special Education Column

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In 1975, when federal lawmakers passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, they promised that the federal government would bear 40 percent of the cost of educating students with disabilities. State and local school systems would pick up the remainder.

In practice, however, the federal share of the program has never exceeded 14 percent.

Now, a group of Republicans on the House Education and Labor Committee is calling on the Congress to begin to make good on its original promise.

Led by Representative Bill Goodling, the ranking minority member on the committee, the lawmakers told the House Budget Committee that federal funds for special education should be increased by $1 billion over the next three fiscal years.

That request represents a considerable change of heart for many of those members. While Democrats on the committee have often asked for more money for special education, the Republicans have rarely advocated major funding increases for any education program.

The group's $427.5-million request for federal funds in fiscal year 1991 is, in fact, more than 26 percent higher than President Bush's request.

That amount is, however, still lower than the the figure the Democrats are requesting. According to an aide, Representative Major R. Owens, the chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees special-education programs, has called for a $1-billion increase in special-education funds in fiscal year 1991 alone.

The University of Kansas has been rated has having the best special-education program in a nationwide survey of college and university programs.

The survey, conducted by Charles K. West, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois, is part of an effort to measure how closely a school's reputation reflects the quality and quantity of the research produced there.

Mr. West contacted key education-faculty members at the 97 institutions belonging to the Holmes Group, a consortium of major research universities working toward education reform, and asked them to rate the top 10 schools for special education and a variety of other educational disciplines.

The other nine schools named for their exemplary special-education programs were the University of Virginia, the University of Washington, the University of Minnesota, Vanderbilt University, the University of Oregon, the University of Illinois, the University of North Carolina, the University of Wisconsin, and Syracuse University.

For the second part of his study, Mr. West will "re-rank" the schools according to their actual research contributions.--dv

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