Fixing Special Education Will Take More than Just Money

In a sideshow to the main debate over ESEA, the Senate passed an amendment on May 3 that would add $18.1 billion to the federal budget for special education over the next 10 years and would change special ed funding into an entitlement that Congress would be required to fund regardless of budget considerations.  This measure has drawn criticism from the White House and others for not addressing the need to reform special ed before pumping more funds into it. 

What would "reform" of special ed look like? Rethinking Special Education for a New Century, a new collection of 14 papers released last week, catalogues the most pressing problems of the federal special ed program and offers some principles to guide the program's reauthorization in 2002. Published jointly by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the Progressive Policy Institute, the report recommends—among other things—that Washington make IDEA performance-based rather than compliance-based and focus on prevention and early intervention wherever possible.

 In a New York Times article on May 13, Kate Zernike shows how the Greenwich, CT school district has done similar things, balancing its special ed budget and bringing the percentage of children in special education down from 17 to 13 percent (as well as reducing the number of lawsuits). Greenwich has also strengthened its general education curriculum so that students are less likely to fall behind and move into special education, and has installed an early-reading program that relies more heavily on phonics.

Would that more communities learned from Greenwich. Meanwhile, the special ed debate in Washington will be going on for months. If you'd like to get your mind around the issues, see Rethinking Special Education for a New Century, published by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the Progressive Policy Institute.

More at: "With Money Not a Cure-All, Special Education Moves Toward Reform," by Kate Zernike, New York Times, May 13, 2001.