News in Brief: A Washington Roundup
Use IDEA Funds Carefully, States Told
Leaders of the House education and appropriations committees say they will keep a close eye on how states spend the current fiscal year's windfall in federal special education funding before deciding whether to give another big increase next year.
In a letter sent to governors and chief state school officers late last week, seven members of Congress said federal dollars must be used to supplement, not supplant, state and local special education budgets.
"In considering future increases for [the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] ... we will be looking to see that states have maintained their financial commitment to special education," said the letter, which was signed by four Republican chairmen of the House education and appropriations committees and the panels' three ranking Democrats.
In addition, the members of Congress say they will examine how much of the money states pass down to schools. States are allowed to keep up to 20 percent of federal funds for statewide programs and 5 percent for administration.
Congressional appropriators increased funding under the idea, the nation's main special education law, by 34 percent for the budget year that began Oct. 1.
That $783 million hike boosted spending for fiscal 1997 to $3.1 billion.
The states will receive their 1997 allocations July 1.
Input on Minorities in Spec. Ed. Asked
The Council for Exceptional Children is calling for the federal government to examine the disproportionate number of minority children in special education.
The CEC wants the Department of Education to study the circumstances, causes, and effects of overrepresentation of minorities in special education. A task force should also advise the department's office for civil rights on modifying its policies and practices based on the report's findings, according to the resolution adopted by the 52,000-member group at its annual convention in Salt Lake City this month.
The issue has long been debated among special educators and advocacy groups, who fear that some minority and limited-English-proficient students may be misdiagnosed as needing special education services because of cultural norms or language barriers.
The CEC also passed a resolution urging schools to end expulsion as a discipline measure for all students, disabled or not, and to provide alternative settings for violent students rather than sending them to the streets.
The group has strongly opposed cessation of services for disruptive disabled students. Such a step would be allowed in some circumstances under both HR 5 and S 216, pending bills to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Head Start Research Criticized
Much of the research on Head Start, the federally funded preschool program for low-income children, is weak, outdated, and does not provide solid, nationally representative information on the program's impact, according to a report released last week by the General Accounting Office.
Most studies to date have focused on cognitive outcomes and neglected the program's other components, such as health and nutrition, the report by the congressional watchdog agency adds.
GAO researchers also examined the Department of Health and Human Services' plans for future Head Start research. They concluded that since the upcoming research will focus on changes and improvements to Head Start, it will not provide any additional information on regular Head Start programs.
In response to a draft of the GAO report, the department, which administers the program, said that Head Start's effectiveness has already been proven and that further impact research is not necessary.