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Report Finds Record Jump in Special-Ed. Enrollment

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WASHINGTON--Enrollment in special-education programs grew at its fastest rate in a decade during the 1990-91 school year, according to the Education Department's annual report on the field.

According to the report, 4.8 million students were served in special-education programs that year, a 2.8 percent increase over the previous year and the largest one-year jump since 1981-82.

It says states faced a shortage of 26,310 special-education teachers and more than 15,000 other professionals, such as school psychologists and speech therapists, in 1990-91. While the shortage of special educators was slightly smaller than the year before, schools still needed one additional teacher for every five they employed.

"States are going to have to be very aggressive over the next decade in their recruitment, retraining, and retention efforts if we are going to have sufficient numbers of personnel to serve our students,'' said Judy Schrag, the director of the department's office of special-education programs.

Increase in Learning-Disabled

In keeping with trends in recent years, the largest enrollment increase occurred among learning-disabled pupils. The report says an additional 81,000 students were added to that category during the 1990-91 school year.

Ms. Schrag and other federal officials attributed the increase to an increased tendency to label high-functioning students with mental retardation, as well as those with attention-deficit disorder, as learning-disabled.

The large number of babies born to mothers who used drugs during pregnancy has also helped swell the ranks of learning-disabled students, officials said.

The 1986 federal law extending services to disabled infants and toddlers also contributed to enrollment increases across all special-education categories.

States said they served an estimated 200,000 infants and toddlers and more than 399,000 preschoolers in 1990-91. The number of preschoolers served was 2.3 percent higher than in the previous school year.

Thirty-eight states reported needing an additional 14,000 teachers for those young children. The report says the shortage "has gotten worse over the last several years and will likely continue to worsen.''

Little Progress in Integration

The report also found that little progress has been made in the effort to integrate disabled children into regular classrooms. While 93 percent of such children were attending regular schools during the 1990-91 school year, only 32.5 percent of them were in regular classrooms for most of the school day. The remaining students were either in separate classrooms or spent most of their time in resource rooms.

There was also widespread variation among states in the degree to which students were integrated.

Copies of "The 14th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,'' are available from the U.S. Education Department, Office of Special Education Programs, 330 C St., S.W., Room 3232, Switzer Building, Washington, D.C. 20202.

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