News In Brief

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Acknowledging Massachusetts' high proportion of students in special education, state officials have issued a report recommending tightening the legal definition of eligibility for the costly program.

The state's 1972 special-education statute is considered among the most liberal in the nation and was used as a model for federal law.

Growth in the number of special-education pupils has long been a concern in Massachusetts, and the issue received new scrutiny this year in the face of budget cutbacks that have forced school districts statewide to cut costs. (See Education Week, June 12, 1991.)

The new report by the state education department indicates that nearly 17 percent of schoolchildren---143,373 students between the ages of 3 and 21 enrolled in special classes. A significant proportion of those youngsters may have been placed there inappropriately, the report suggests.

To reduce inappropriate placements, the report recommends eliminating language permitting the inclusion of children with "temporary or more permanent adjustment difficulties."

The current wording, said MaryBeth Fafard, associate commissioner for the division of special education, could cover "a large number of kids" who do not have a genuine disability.

The report also recommends strengthening regular-class instruction to accommodate children with learning difficulties, for example by creating teacher-support teams to work with children who need help before they are referred for special education.

State officials said the changes would cost $26.8 million over the next five years, but could reduce the number of special-needs students by as many as 41,000 and save the state more than $130 million.

More than half of the $165 million received by California as part of an antitrust settlement with oil companies would be earmarked for elementary and secondary education, under legislation before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee last week.

The bill would designate $50 million for instructional materials for mathematics and science courses, $50 million for rehiring laid-off teachers, and $1 million for county education offices.

The remainder of the funds would be used to reduce student fees at college campuses, which in many cases raised fees by 40 percent to offset state budget cuts.

The proposal is backed by Lieut. Gov. Leo McCarthy, but has received initial criticism from aides to Gov. Pete Wilson. Without lawmakers' intervention, the money from the settlement would go to the state's general fund.

Wisconsin teachers convicted of molesting children or committing other violent crimes will automatically lose their teaching licenses, under a law signed last month by Gov. Tommy G. Thompson.

The measure follows press accounts about a small number of school employees with a history of such offenses who have continued to teach, unnoticed, in Wisconsin schools for years.

The new law also requires school administrators to report employees who engage in conduct that endangers children to state school officials, or face a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in jail.

California lawmakers have given final approval to a bill requiring local school boards to have nonvoting student members.

The measure passed the Assembly unanimously in May, but was approved only narrowly in the Senate, where critics attacked it for infringing on voter rights and interfering with the affairs of school beards.

Vol. 11, Issue 02, Page 1

Published in Print: September 11, 1991, as News In Brief
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