Special Education Column

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Forty-seven states and territories are taking part this year in a new federal program to serve handicapped infants, according to a new survey of state special-education directors.

The $50-million program for handicapped children under age 2 was created as part of the Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1986, P.L. 99-457. When the Congress passed the measure last September, only six states were serving that population. A separate part of the new law provides strong incentives for states to extend to 3-to-5-year-olds all the rights that school-age handicapped children already receive under federal special-education laws.

"We're really encouraged by the results,'' said Sharon Walsh, who directed the survey for the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. Released on May 19, the survey is the fourth the association has conducted to determine how its members plan to implement the new law.

In addition, she said, of the 36 states and territories that have designated a lead agency to oversee the handicapped-infant program, 14 have chosen their education departments. And 14 state directors said they would include "at risk'' in their definitions of "developmentally delayed'' children who would be eligible for the new services. Lawmakers purposely left the definition ambiguous, giving states the option of deciding whether to include at-risk children in the program.

A sweeping new law means little, however, without the funds to back it up, officials of the special-education association point out.

To ensure that the new programs are adequately financed, the organization has launched a lobbying campaign to persuade state legislatures to pass resolutions calling for full federal funding of the handicapped-infant program and the program for handicapped preschool-age children.

The first such resolution--and the model that the association hopes other states will follow--is pending in the California legislature.

Special educators became concerned after President Reagan, in his budget proposal earlier this year, recommended that the authorized funds for the programs be "zeroed out.''

Congressional budgetmakers, however, are proposing full funding of the initiatives, Ms. Walsh said.

As handicapped students increasingly seek to enroll in colleges and universities, two organizations for the disabled have devised a guide to help them make the right choice.

The 16-page pamphlet, entitled "How to Choose a College: Guide for the Student With a Disability,'' contains questions that students who are physically or learning disabled can ask of both themselves and college representatives. The Association on Handicapped Student Service Programs in Postsecondary Education, and the Higher Education and the Handicapped Resource Center are publishing the guide.

It is available, free of charge, by writing the HEATH Resource Center, One Dupont Circle, Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20036-1193, or by calling (800) 54-HEATH.--D.V.

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