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Funding Issues Attract Attention at Spec. Ed. Gathering

With questions about how to finance the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act swirling around on Capitol Hill in Washington, here in America's heartland researchers reported that special education costs are on the rise with no relief in sight.

"I don't think we will actually get 40 percent funding for IDEA in the reauthorization, but what if we do?" asked Thomas Parrish, the director of the Center for Special Education Finance in Palo Alto, Calif., at a national conference for special educators held here last week. "It still won't solve anything."

Reporting preliminary results from a 50-state survey his group conducted, Mr. Parrish said 29 states have revised their special education funding systems in the last six years, and many are considering further changes.

"What we see is a lot of turbulence in how special education is funded," Mr. Parrish said during a session at the Council for Exceptional Children's annual conference April 17-21, which attracted some 6,000 special educators from the United States, Canada, and elsewhere. "What formulas some states are moving toward, others are moving away from. It's circular."

The survey found that states are typically footing a smaller share of the nation's special education bill than in the past. In 1982-83, the federal government paid 7 percent, while states covered 56 percent and local jurisdictions came up with 37 percent, Mr. Parrish reported. By 1998-99, the federal government's share was 8 percent, the states' portion had fallen to 47 percent, and localities' share had risen to 45 percent, he said.

Results from the federally financed Survey of State Special Education Finance Systems are due to appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Special Education Leadership.

When Bruce Hua was a boy, he dreamed about flying off to a foreign country. But his mother cautioned him to be realistic.

How could he speak another language when he couldn't speak English understandably, Mr. Hua remembers his mother asking him. Mr. Hua has cerebral palsy, which affects his speech.

"I got a kick out of calling my mother to tell her that I was going to be a speaker at a national conference," said Mr. Hua, who is now a doctoral student in special education at the University of Northern Colorado.

Mr. Hua, who was identified as gifted while in high school, discussed the importance of early identification and nurturing of students who have both a disability and are gifted. This is a fast growing population of students, whom special educators refer to as "twice exceptional."

Identifying twice-exceptional students is often difficult because in many cases, the students' disabilities mask their giftedness. When teaching such students, Mr. Hua said, teachers should try such strategies as encouraging them to participate in class or extracurricular activities; providing them with role models through biographies, adult mentors, or small-group activities; or allowing them to be guests in classes of gifted students.

"If a student has a language disability, read to him and ask him his thoughts about what you read," Mr. Hua suggested. "Tell the child what you think and hear what he thinks."

A session on intervention methods for students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder attracted an overflow crowd at the Kansas City Convention Center.

Lily Li-Chu Dyson, a researcher who studies ADHD at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, said research points to an approach that combines medicine, computer-assisted instruction, and reward systems.

Teachers can give rewards, including tokens that can be cashed in for class privileges based on good behavior, and take away tokens as consequences for bad behavior, she said.

Ms. Dyson also suggested that teachers interview students with ADHD about their behavior to help structure the children's in-class environment.

—Lisa Fine

Vol. 20, Issue 32, Page 12

Published in Print: April 25, 2001, as Reporter's Notebook
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