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Bill Bars Funds Unless States Charge For Services to Handicapped Toddlers

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By Debra Viadero

Washington--States could lose federal funding if they did not charge for services provided to disabled infants and toddlers, under a new Education Department proposal. The recommendation, part of the department's proposed legislation to reauthorize the federal handicapped-infant-and-toddler program, would require states to adopt a sliding-fee scale or risk losing 10 percent of the federal funding they receive for the program.

"We think this proposal would provide an incentive for states to target funds on infants and toddlers with the least ability to pay," Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander wrote in a letter accompanying the proposal.3

The letter was sent to President Bush and Congressional leaders on May 22.

A number of federal lawmakers and national organizations representing children with disabilities and special-education administrators have strongly opposed the idea of requiring states to charge fees based on families' ability to pay.

"We think the federal government should encourage the states to do sliding fees, but they shouldn't hold up the money to the states," said William Schipper, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. "That isn't encouragement; that's blackmail."

Under current law, states have the option of adopting sliding-fee scales. A reauthorization bill passed by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee last month would leave that option in place.

The House has not yet drafted a bill to reauthorize the program.

But Patricia Laird, a senior analyst on the House subcommittee charged with that task, said the bill would not include a provision requiring sliding-fee scales.

"As far as we're concerned, it's a dead issue," said Ms. Laird, who works for the House Subcommittee on Select Education.

Other Provisions

The federal handicapped-infant and-toddler program was created under the 1986 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law has two key features. The first is the requirement that states guarantee a free, appropriate education to all handicapped 3- to 5-year- olds by Sept. 30, or risk losing all federal special-education money targeted to that population.

The separate infant-and-toddler program, known as Part H, provides seed money for states to pull together a wide range of educational, social, and health services for the families of disabled children age 2 and under. Technically, only that program is up for reauthorization this year.

In its legislative proposal, the Education Department recommended that $129 million be authorized for the Part H program--about $91 mil lion less than the Senate bill recommends.

Like the Senate bill, however, the department's proposal would allow states to use Part H and preschool funds for children who are in transition from one program to another.

Under current law, states may use Part H funds only for children from birth through age 2 and cannot use preschool funds for those younger than 3. The rules create lapses in services for children whose third birthday falls during the program year.

The proposal would also permit states to provide less than a full array of services for infants who are not born handicapped but who are considered to be at risk of develop mental delay.

    States now must choose between providing a comprehensive array of services to that group or not serving them at all.

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