WASHINGTON--Despite its past assurances that funds for the education of the handicapped would be maintained at current levels, the Reagan Administration has proposed what amounts to a cut in the special-education program, Senator Lowell P. Weicker Jr. charged last week.
The Connecticut Republican, who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Education Department, vowed to restore the funds.
“X number of children are going to have their future jeopardized because of budget constraints,” Senator Weicker said. “I will not accept that.”
But Madeleine C. Will, assistant secretary of education for special education and rehabilitative services, said in testimony before the subcommittee that the Administration’s commitment to handicapped children remains “substantial.”
States and localities provide the vast majority of funds for education of the handicapped, she said, and the federal reductions will have only a slight impact.
The Administration has proposed $1.14 billion in funding for state grants for education of the handicapped, the largest portion of the $1.3-billion budget proposed for special education. Ms. Will said the proposed budget for state grants would “maintain” funding at last year’s level.
But Senator Weicker charged that the amount proposed for the state grants was $104 million less than the funding needed to maintain the current level of services. In addition, he said, the number of students needing assistance may have grown and the per-student cost of services has risen.
Rather than “maintain,” Senator Weicker asked Ms. Will, “do you think the word ‘cut’ should have been used?”
Senator Weicker also criticized Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, whom he quoted as saying that the Administration held special education ":safe from any cuts at all.”
“There is no evidence through our monitoring efforts,” Ms. Will replied, “to suggest that there is an inability to deliver these services.”
Senator Weicker also said it was a “disgrace” that the department had not named a director of special education in four years.
Ms. Will said the application process for that position was almost complete.