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Congress Likely to Seek Extension for Special-Ed. Programs

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Congress is likely to seek a one-year extension for the federal special-education programs that expire in October.

The Senate Subcommittee on Disability Policy, which has jurisdiction over the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, plans to introduce by the end of this month a measure to extend the programs, said Patricia Morrissey, the panel's staff director.

The House will likely follow suit with an extension, though the timing in that chamber is less certain, aides to the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee and its Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth, and Families said.

"We just don't want people to think that we're not going to do anything this year," said an aide to Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the full committee.

The best-known sections of the landmark law, those guaranteeing disabled children a public education and authorizing grants to help pay for it, are permanently authorized and do not have to be extended.

But parts of the law expire Oct. 1, including a number of training and research programs and the so-called Part H program, which gives states seed money for serving infants and toddlers with disabilities.

The I.D.E.A. was originally set to be reauthorized last year, and is now running on an automatic one-year extension.

Because the high-profile sections of the law would not be affected, some advocates for children with disabilities had feared that lawmakers' current focus on cutting the size and cost of government--combined with a heavy schedule that would make it difficult to enact a full-scale reauthorization bill--might spur them to let the other programs lapse.

Thorny Issues Ahead

"I think this allays our concerns," said Myrna R. Mandlawitz, a special assistant for government relations for the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. "We're pretty confident that this will go without a hitch."

House and Senate aides said that the planned delay is indicative of members' intentions to closely scrutinize the law. They are expected to raise such thorny issues as how to discipline students with disabilities and how the program should be financed.

It would be difficult to deal with such issues by October, aides noted, especially with a number of new members on the committees, including Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that will handle the I.D.E.A.

The Senate panel plans to hold preliminary hearings on the law in May and introduce a reauthorization bill sometime in the fall. Thanksgiving is the target date for floor action, Ms. Morrissey said.

The House will likely follow a similar schedule, said an aide to Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif., who chairs the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over the i.d.e.a. The aide said the House goal is to have the new law enacted before the end of the year.

"It's a very ambitious schedule," Ms. Mandlawitz said.

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