Special Education:

The Attorney Fees Provision of Public Law 99-372

HRD-90-22BR: Published: Nov 24, 1989. Publicly Released: Nov 24, 1989.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the impact of the attorney fees provision of P.L. 99-372 between 1984 and 1988, focusing on the: (1) number of administrative decisions that states issued, including information on the prevailing parties and types of complaints; (2) number of civil actions for the period, including information on the prevailing parties and types of complaints; (3) amount of attorney fees and other costs awarded to prevailing parties, time spent in the disputes, and expenses that parents and education agencies incurred; and (4) experience of educational agencies in resolving complaints informally.

GAO found that: (1) the number of administrative hearings scheduled between parents and school districts increased 29 percent, but the number of administrative decisions issued increased only 4 percent; (2) disagreement over educational placement was the most frequent subject of complaints and accounted for 38 percent of all disputes; (3) parents hired attorneys to represent their children in 54 percent of all administrative hearings and had a higher percentage of success when they employed attorneys to represent them; (4) most of the state education agencies had no record of the amount of attorney fees awarded to parents; (5) 6 of the 13 states that collected data on attorney fee awards in 1987 reported that they paid no attorney fees to parents, 1 state did not have the data available, and the other 6 states reported that either they or the school districts paid a total of $157,000 in such awards; (6) in 1988, six states reported that they paid no attorney fees to parents, and seven states paid a total of $387,000; and (7) states reported that parents who had attorney representation prevailed in all or part of the 454 administrative decisions and 19 complaints in court actions in 1988.

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