News in Brief:A Washington Roundup

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Spec. Ed. Disputes Not Frequent, GAO Says

Conflicts between parents of students with disabilities and their schools over special education services are perceived to be often costly and time- consuming. But formal disputes involving due-process hearings, state complaints, and mediation may not occur as frequently as expected, according to a report by the General Accounting Office.

The Sept. 9 report by the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, says the rate of formal dispute resolution between districts and parents is generally low, relative to the number of students with disabilities. Citing data from several national studies, the GAO says that in 2000, about five due-process hearings were held per 10,000 students with disabilities.

Meanwhile, in the 1998-99 school year, about seven mediations were held for every 10,000 students with disabilities. And in the same academic year, about 10 complaints were filed with states per 10,000 students with disabilities.

The report also notes that from 1996 to 2000, the number of requests for due-process hearings increased from 7,532 to 11,068, but the number of such hearings held fell from 3,555 to 3,020.

—Lisa Goldstein

College-Loan Default Rate Hits an All-Time Low

The rate at which students default on their federal loans for college has dropped from 5.9 percent to an all-time low of 5.4 percent, and for the first time in more than a decade, no colleges or universities will face penalties, the Department of Education said last week.

The new estimates are for fiscal 2001, covering students who began repaying their loans between Oct. 1, 2000, and Sept. 30, 2001, and who defaulted before Sept. 30 of last year. Default rates have been falling steadily over the past 10 years, though they rose slightly, from 5.6 percent to 5.9 percent, in fiscal 2000.

Department officials attribute the decline in the default rate this year partly to improved efforts by schools, private lenders, and the department itself to counsel students on their repayment options. In 1992, the default rate stood at 22.4 percent.

The federal government calculates its figures through what is known as a "cohort default rate," based on the number of students who enter into default on Federal Family Education Loans or William D. Ford Direct Loans. A student is generally considered in default after 270 days without a repayment. The government imposes penalties on colleges and universities whose students maintain high default rates.

In 1994, 642 schools nationwide were subject to such penalties; this year, there were none. About 6,200 postsecondary schools participate in the two loan programs through which default rates are measured.

Sally L. Stroup, the department's assistant secretary for postsecondary education, said the agency was likely to work with Congress during the ongoing reauthorization of the Higher Education Act to explore whether the current method for estimating default was producing accurate data.

—Sean Cavanagh

Vol. 23, Issue 4, Page 30

Published in Print: September 24, 2003, as News in Brief: A Washington Roundup
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