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E.D. Weighs Special-Education, Chapter 1 Rule Changes

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WASHINGTON--Special educators and regular educators participating in the federal Chapter 1 program would be able to collaborate in serving disabled and disadvantaged students, under two sots of pending rule changes currently under consideration by the Education Department.

The first proposed change would alter the "nonsupplanting" prohibition in federal special-education law. Under that provision, schools must meet a two-prong test for ensuring they do not use federal special-education funds to replace state funds already targeted for those services.

Under the first part of that test, state funding for special-education must not have decreased from year to year, either on an overall level or on a per-child basis. The second part of the test prohibits schools from using federal money for "particular costs," such as an individual teacher's salary, that were previously borne by state and local districts.

The department has proposed eliminating the second test, while continuing to require that overall spending on special education not decrease. The change would give schools more flexibility in how they use their resources.

"If you have a teacher whose salary is paid for with special-education funds, and next year the teacher wants to service Chapter 1 and special-education students, the school district may decide to split the funding," said Judith A. Schrag, the director of the department's office of special-education programs. "We think school districts should have greater flexibility to mix and match kids."

The proposed rule is also intended to ease the transitions disabled children must make as they move from new federal programs serving handicapped infants and toddlers to preschool and grade-school special-education programs, Ms. Schrag explained.

The proposed change in the nonsupplanting provisions was published in the Dec. 30, 2992, Federal Register. The department will be accepting comments on the proposal until March 30.

More Coordination Sought

The second proposed rule change, not yet published, would allow teachers of Chapter 1 students to provide "incidental benefits" to students who are not in the program. Officials in the department's office of compensatory programs are currently drawing up the change. (See Education Week, Jan. 8, 1992.)

The proposal is part of an ongoing effort by the Education Department tO spur greater coordination among its separate programs and to provide flexibility for local school officials.

The Chapter 1 and special-education programs have already been moving in that direction for some time.

Ms. Schrag and Mary Jean LeTendre, the director of the office of compensatory programs, have formed a working group of educators and administrators from both fields to identify barriers to collaboration between the programs and recommend ways they can work together. The 18-member group held its first meeting last month and plans on meeting three to four times more this year, Ms. Schrag said.

"We think the 1990's are the decade in which the population is changing so much in that children are becoming more alike across programs," she said.

At some point, she added, special education programs might also begin to work more closely with other federal programs, such as migrant or bilingual eduCation.

A similar effort at intertwining the programs was launched in the mid1980's, in part to pave the way for the "regular-education initiative," a movement to educate more mildly handicapped children in regular classrooms. Some parents and special educators voiced objections, however, because they feared disabled children would lose some of the safeguards built into those programs.

But Ms. Schrag said federal special-education officials' renewed interest in collaborating is a distinct effort. She made clear that department officials would avoid any changes that could "jeopardize the rights of students with disabilities."

No date has been sot yet for publication of the new rules for Chapter 1 teachers.

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