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Published in Print: March 17, 1999, as Report Charts Rise in Spec. Ed. Enrollment

Report Charts Rise in Spec. Ed. Enrollment

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The number of students with disabilities is climbing steadily, and the number of qualified special education teachers is not keeping pace, the Department of Education says in its 1998 report on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

"The 20th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the IDEA," which was released to the public and the press last week, documents continuing incremental increases in the identification rates of students and preschoolers with disabilities. During the 1996-97 school year, for example, the number of such students ages 3 to 21 rose to 5.8 million, a 3 percent increase from the 1995-96 total of 5.62 million students with disabilities. That followed a 3.3 percent increase from the 5.44 million students with disabilities in 1994-95.

The category of "other health impairments," which includes attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, saw a 20.5 percent increase, from 133,400 students in 1995-96 to 160,800 students in 1996-97. The number of students categorized as having "specific learning disabilities," the largest disability category, jumped 3 percent, from just under 2.6 million to nearly 2.7 million during the same period. And more students with disabilities are also being served in regular education classrooms as a result of the "inclusion" movement, the report says.

The report also says, however, that the number of teachers who are qualified to teach students with disabilities has not kept up with increasing enrollments. While the number of special education jobs rose from 284,000 in the 1987-88 school year to 328,000 in 1995-96--about a 15 percent increase--some 27,000 of those teachers were not fully certified. What's more, another 23,000 are needed each year to keep up with current enrollment trends.

Special Delivery

The IDEA mandates that the annual report on trends in special education be delivered to Congress each year. Jay Diskey, a spokesman for Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said that only one staff member from his committee had seen the report as of late last week.

In a strange twist, the 1998 report was sent to the Council for Exceptional Children in Reston, Va., in February, a month before department officials allowed the public to review copies.

"We thought it was out," said Richard Mainzer, the assistant executive director for professional standards and practice at the CEC, which represents special education teachers and other school staff, as well as parents. "I had no indication it wasn't released otherwise."

Judith E. Heumann, the assistant secretary for the department's office of special education and rehabilitative services, said in an interview last week that the information in the report had been sent to Congress in December, and that the report was given to the CEC because it was an IDEA grantee.

A spokesman for Ms. Heumann's agency, Jim Bradshaw, said the office had had technical problems putting the report on the Education Department's World Wide Web page, thus delaying its release. But he said he was unaware that copies had been sent out weeks earlier to the CEC.

Vol. 18, Issue 27, Page 40

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