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Measure Reauthorizing Handicapped Act Cleared by House; Awaits Bush's Signature

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Washington--The House gave final approval last week to the conference report on legislation to reauthorize discretionary programs under the Education of the Handicapped Act.

President Bush is expected to sign the bill, one of the few education-related bills pending last week that was not facing a veto threat. The Senate had approved the four-year reauthorization of the special-education law earlier this month.

The bill would authorize up to $320 million in federal spending in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 for a wide range of research, personnel-training, demonstration, and technical-assistance programs under the landmark 1975 act.

Omitted from the final legislation was a controversial proposal that would have had the effect of extending special-education services to children with attention-deficit disorders. The most intense debate on the bill had focused on that proposal, which had been included in an earlier House report on the legislation.

Education and civil-rights groups have argued that the new category would swamp special-education programs, spreading federal dollars too thin and unnecessarily pulling many children--especially those belonging to minority groups--out of regular classrooms. (See Education Week, Sept. 26, 1990.)

In place of that proposal, the final bill instructs the Education Department to publish a notice in the Federal Register asking for comments on ways to tighten existing definitions of the disorder.

Other Provisions

The legislation also would keep intact a provision that would have the effect of "undoing" the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Dellmuth v. Muth.

In that 1989 ruling, the Court ruled that the parents of a disabled child could not sue a state for failing to provide their child with appropriate special-education services be8cause the Congress had failed to specifically abrogate states' 11th Amendment immunity from federal lawsuits when it passed the special-education law.

The legislation also would:

Authorize up to $27.5 million for a new grant program to help disabled teenagers make the transition from school to work or further study.

Set aside $6.5 million for research and information on teaching emotionally disturbed children.

Make up to $19.25 million in new funding available for historically black colleges and universities to encourage more minority students to get special-education degrees.

Create a model demonstration program for a special-education "ombudsman" who would intervene when parents and educators could not agree on a student's education plan. Advocates have said they hope an ombudsman would eliminate the need for parents and school districts to go through a costly due-process hearing before a state administrative-hearing officer.

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