Disparities Still Exist in Who Gets Special Education

IPE-81-1: Published: Sep 30, 1981. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 1981.

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GAO examined some of the issues identified in a prior report on the education of the handicapped program. It provided an indepth investigation of selected issues in special education access based on review and synthesis evaluation studies since Public Law 94-142 was enacted.

The congressional goal of providing all handicapped children ages 3 to 18 with a free public education which meets their unique needs has not been met for all eligible handicapped children. GAO found that participation in special education programs depends on factors such as the State in which a child lives, the child's handicapped condition, sex, minority status, and programs available in a school district. About 8.5 percent of the school-age population receive special education. The typical child participating in special education in public schools is young, male, and mildly handicapped. Several studies provide evidence that there are few out-of-school children. However, considerable evidence indicates that there are in-school children who need, but are not receiving, special education. However, the data currently are inadequate to estimate the size of this group. Learning disabled children exceed the number of children in any other category of handicapped condition. A disproportionate share of minority children and male children appear to participate in some special education programs. Biases in child referral and assessment procedures, such as teacher attitudes and judgments, State definitions of handicapped conditions, and school district program limitations, are thought to account for much of the over- and under-representation of certain types of children in special education. The objective of giving those most in need of services special education has largely been accomplished. A disproportionate share of funds is allocated to the learning disabilities category.

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