Stories and Grievances: Special Education
The US Government Has Not Yet Established New Regulations For the Implementation of IDEA 2004
IDEA 2004 will shake up special education in July, but are states ready? Perhaps not.
U.S. revising education for special needs children
By Les Kjos, World Peace International
United Press International
Published April 29, 2005
Special education is in for a big shakeup come July, and states and school districts are gearing up for it.
The Department of Education has scheduled a series of meetings in June and July to discuss how to deal with the new law that will have an impact on the nation's 6 million special-needs children.
But there is a hitch. The department has yet to come up with a batch of regulations governing the implementation, and the work is dragging.
It could be months, and the department said states should use the regulations from the last revision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act in 1997 if they apply.
The new law preserves the basic structure and civil-rights guarantees of its predecessor but also makes significant changes.
Included are new provisions regarding how schools can determine whether a child has a specific learning disability and needs special-education services.
But what has some parents and teachers worried is the possibility the bill will allow special-education students to be expelled for their behavior or fail classes because the instruction doesn't fit the need.
Others worry about whether the classes will prepare them for life after graduation.
Changes will include the way parents monitor the progress of their children, how discipline is handled, how they are instructed, treatment of special-needs children in private schools and oversight requirements.
One of the changes in the act is a cutback of Individual Education Plans. They no longer will include short-term goals, except for students with severe problems hindering cognition.
Parents say they use IEPs to monitor student progress and as kind of a road map for the near future. The purpose of the change was to cut down on paper work, and policymakers believe the long-range goals are most important.
Another fear is that stricter discipline will result in unfair expulsions. Under the 1997 law it was easier for parents to contend that if their child is disruptive, the reason is his or her disability.
The new law will make it easier for schools to show that the behavior is separate from the disability, said Jerri Katzerman, managing attorney for the Arizona Center for Disability Law.
"This is a significant reversal of current law. It will be much easier for an administrator to get rid of a perceived problem," Katzerman told The Arizona Republic.
Another aspect is the transition of special-education students from their high school years to adult life. The current law begins training for the real world at age 14, but the 2005 revision starts it at 16.
Some parents say that the requirements to get college scholarships or jobs take more time than that, and so do many of the life services that are required.
Other changes include ensuring special education for children with disabilities who are homeless or otherwise members of highly mobile populations.
It also modifies requirements for parents who place their children with disabilities in private schools to help get them equal treatment.
State assessment tests can be a problem, and the new law tries to revise the goals to fit special-needs children.
The bill also stiffens requirements for teachers, and that's likely to be the biggest expense.
The appearance of dollar signs is usually what gets the attention of the National Education Association, the nation's biggest teachers' union, and IDEA is no exception.
IDEA was first approved in 1975 with the commitment to pay 40 percent of the average per-student cost for every special-education student.
The current average per student is $7,552, and the average cost per special-education student is $16,921 -- an increase of $9,369.
"Yet, in 2004, the federal government is providing local school districts with just under 20 percent of its commitment rather than the 40 percent specified by the law, creating a $10.6 billion shortfall for states and local school districts," the NEA said in a statement.
The organization said it gave qualified support to the 2004 bill signed by President Bush Dec. 3, agreeing with provisions on professional development, paperwork reduction, early intervention and discipline.
But the NEA and its allies support a proposal that would phase in full funding over the next six years.
The organization said that special-education issues affect general programs in schools in a number of ways. In the last 10 years the number of students enrolled in special-education programs has risen 30 percent.
Three of every four students with disabilities spend part or all of their school day in a mainstream classroom. Nearly every mainstream classroom across the United States includes students with disabilities.
In light of the challenge NEA likes to points to the successes.
"Local public schools are now educating millions of disabled children, and a growing number of them are graduating from high school," a statement said.
"Only three decades ago, these same children would have been isolated in separate institutions or simply kept at home, with little or no chance of ever becoming independent, productive, taxpaying citizens," the NEA said.