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Last Updated: 02/23/2018


Article of Interest - IDEA Reauthorization

The Gate    

New plan for special ed funds
White House panel wants range expanded for private services
Michael A. Fletcher, Saturday, July 6, 2002, San Francisco Gate
Original URL:

Washington -- A presidential commission has recommended that federal special education funds be allowed to pay for the cost of private services or even private schools attended by disabled students, as long as those options are available to other students under state and local laws.

The proposal by the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education would significantly expand the range of private special education services now paid for with public funds by ensuring that special education money flows to charter schools and to private schools in districts that already have those educational options in place.

California voters voted against establishing a state school voucher system in the November 2000 elections.

Currently, students who attend charter schools or receive private school vouchers typically do so under a formula that pays predetermined sums of money per student. Also, local school systems now often provide limited services for students whose parents shift them to private schools.

In addition, school districts pay private school tuitions for students whose special education needs cannot be accommodated in public schools.

Under the commission's proposal, parents of special education students in school districts where disabled students are not making adequate educational progress would also have the option of using federal money to pay for private services -- such as speech or occupational therapy -- for their children.

"The commission was concerned that the evolving forms of choice -- charters,

intradistrict transfers and vouchers -- should not be impeded by federal special education law," said C. Todd Jones, the commission's executive director.

The proposal to expand school choice options for special education students is contained in a larger report that an Education Department spokesman said is being reviewed by the Bush administration.

"We're concerned that it drains dollars and resources away from the public school system," said Nancy Reder, deputy executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. "It is particularly acute with special education because of the high costs involved and the shortages of personnel."

The 16-member special education commission is headed by former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, and was appointed by President Bush in October to develop recommendations for the reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, the landmark federal law guaranteeing a "free appropriate public education" to the disabled.

Congress is scheduled to begin work on a rewrite of the law this summer.

Beyond expanding school choice options for special education students, the panel has recommended that special education move toward identifying student disabilities earlier and that the federal government reduce paperwork that burdens special education administrators.

In a disappointment to many special education advocates, the panel did not back a proposal for Congress to provide a mandatory financing level for special education.

When the law was enacted in 1975, the federal government pledged to pay 40 percent of its cost but never kept the promise. Federal funds now cover roughly 15 percent of the costs, with state and local funds paying the rest, often creating a huge burden, particularly in cash-strapped school districts.

The commission's report has yet to be embraced by the White House, and will be the subject of Senate hearing on Tuesday. One issue certain to arise is the panel's refusal to recommend that the Bush administration support a mandatory financing formula.


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