Unanswered Questions on Educating Handicapped Children in Local Public Schools

HRD-81-43: Published: Feb 5, 1981. Publicly Released: Feb 5, 1981.

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In passing the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, Congress set a goal that, by September 1, 1978, all of the Nation's handicapped children age 3 to 18 would have available a free appropriate public education which met their needs. This goal probably will not be achieved until at least the mid-1980's. A GAO review in 10 States disclosed major problems that need to be addressed.

A large difference between the 1974 estimate by the Department of Education of the number of handicapped children needing services and the number of children being counted and served by States has created controversy. Nearly one-third of the children counted as handicapped under the program were classified as speech impaired and were receiving only speech therapy. The law is unclear on whether children receiving only speech therapy or related services should be counted as handicapped for Federal funding proposes. Neither the Department's eligibility criteria for coverage of speech therapy nor the guidance for applying the criteria have been defined. The law requires an individualized education program for each handicapped child. Of the programs GAO reviewed, 84 percent lacked required information, lacked evidence of planning meeting participation, or were late in preparation. Individualized programs did not disclose needed services if they were not available. The most commonly cited reasons for the expected delay in providing education for the handicapped was a shortage of funds. Additional problems impeding the Act's implementation included: (1) insufficient staff at the State level; (2) delays by the Department in issuing regulations, providing guidance and instructions, and approving State plans; and (3) a lack of comprehensive Federal evaluations of the State's compliance.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should consider the conflict between (1) the statutory purpose and timetable for providing each handicapped child with a free appropriate public education and (2) the problems States and local education agencies are having, and will probably continue to have, in meeting those objectives. If considerable additional delays in reaching the goals are not acceptable, Congress should provide (1) incentives to stimulate increased State and local funding, or (2) increased Federal funding for the program. If Congress finds that existing goals and deadlines are too stringent, considering potential fund and staff availability, it should modify the Act's timetables or scope of coverage.

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should clarify whether, and under what conditions, children who are receiving only speech therapy or services currently cited in the law as "related services" are eligible for coverage under the 94-142 program.

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should consider the related question of the eligibility of children who need only small amounts of speech therapy.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should reconsider the validity of the 12-percent handicap prevalence estimate based on the evaluation results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should increase the distribution to all States of instructions, guidance, and models relating to individual education programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should assist States and local education agencies to eliminate deficiencies in their programs and processes for identifying, evaluating, and serving handicapped children.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  4. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should fully evaluate, either directly or through the States' program monitoring efforts, the effectiveness of local education agency programs and processes for accurately identifying, evaluating, and serving all handicapped children needing services under the act.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  5. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should revise the program regulations to state clearly that individualized education programs must include all special education and related services needed to provide a free appropriate public education.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  6. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should require that Federal and State efforts to oversee the administration of Public Law 94-142 give special attention to enforcing individualized education program requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  7. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should require States to document in their State program plans, and demonstrate to the Secretary's satisfaction, that they are able to meet the commitments in their plans and carry out their responsibilities under Public Law 94-142.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  8. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should evaluate States' compliance with the free appropriate public education requirement of Public Law 94-142, and use the evaluations to determine what additional actions, including withholding funds as provided for in the act, need to be taken to assure that States are effectively implementing the act.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  9. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should emphasize the importance of (1) issuing regulations in a timely manner, (2) providing technical assistance, (3) reviewing State plans, and (4) making monitoring visits.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  10. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should stop using, at least temporarily, the 12-percent handicap prevalence estimate as the basis for encouraging States to increase the number of children counted and served.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

 

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