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Special-Education Columm

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Critical shortages of teachers, administrators, and paraprofessionals will plague the special-education field by the turn of the century, a new survey predicts.

Researchers at the Federal Resource Center for Special Education at the University of Kentucky surveyed 250 special-education experts for their reactions to nearly 200 statements predicting trends in the field over the next 20 years.

Overwhelmingly, the researchers found, the experts agreed that already serious personnel shortages in the field would become critical in the years ahead. In an effort to meet those shortages, the respondents said, regular educators would be trained to work with disabled students and the line separating special education and regular education would become increasingly blurry.

Copies of the study, "Issues and Trends in Special Education,'' are available for $11 each from the National Clearinghouse on Rehabilitation and Training Materials, Oklahoma State University, 816 West 6th St., Stillwater, Okla. 74078-0435; (800) 223-5219.

A report suggests that Pennsylvania's three-year-old formula for funding special-education programs is succeeding in containing the spiraling costs of those services.

William T. Hartman, the director of the educational-administration program at Pennsylvania State University, said his study shows that special-education costs have risen only 1.4 percent in the state since the new formula took effect, and the number of students qualifying for such services has dropped 2.1 percent.

In comparison, over the four years preceding the funding-formula change, special-education costs increased 50 percent while the number of students in the program increased 8 percent.

Moreover, the report found, the state's share of special-education costs, which critics had predicted would shrink under the new formula, has grown. The state now bears more than half of those costs.

"The positive fiscal results,'' Mr. Hartman concluded, "have not come at the expense of special-education teachers or special-education students.''

Previously, the state reimbursed school districts for the "excess cost'' of educating disabled students. The state also directly funded intermediate units, which provided special-education services in a central location, and charged school districts for the services.

Under the new formula, all funds are allocated to school districts based on fixed percentages of disabled pupils. In addition, the state has instituted other changes aimed at helping pupils with learning problems succeed in regular classrooms rather than referring them to special education.--D.V.

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