- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

House Republicans began the administration's second round of public school reforms yesterday, proposing legislation to reclassify millions of children improperly placed in special-education classes and reduce paperwork for teachers.
A major goal of the Republican initiative, advanced by President Bush as part of his No Child Left Behind reform agenda, is to stop labeling illiterate children as "learning disabled" and relegating them to special education. About 6.5 million children are in special education nationwide.
"Currently, too many children with reading problems are being identified as disabled and placed in special education classes they do not necessarily belong in," says a committee summary of the proposed legislation.
"This over-identification hinders the academic development of students who are misidentified and also takes valuable resources away from students who truly are learning disabled."
The bill would require local school districts "with significant over-identification of minority students" to operate referral programs to prevent improper assignment of children to special education.
Districts are told to eliminate outdated and unreliable IQ testing models based on statistical averages that rely on a "wait to fail" approach for identification of "specific learning disabilities."
"As Education Secretary Rod Paige has noted, studies show the proportion of minority students identified in some disability categories is dramatically greater than their share of the overall population," the committee bill analysis states.
"More specifically, African-American students are labeled as mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed far out of proportion to their share of the student population. For minority students, misclassification or inappropriate placement in special-education programs can have significant adverse consequences."
Teachers and school administrators have also been overwhelmed by a "crushing paperwork burden" under the current Individuals with Disabilities Education Act since the law was enacted 28 years ago, said Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce subcommittee on education reform.
"By forcing teachers to focus on compliance with complex and often duplicative paperwork, the IDEA law inadvertently takes teachers out of the classroom where they are needed the most," Mr. Castle said. "Ensuring academic results for children with special needs requires teachers to spend time teaching their students, not filling out confusing and unnecessary paperwork."
Democrats criticized the bill for inadequate spending levels. Funding for special education would go from $8.9 billion in fiscal 2003 to an estimated $11 billion in fiscal 2008.
"[Republicans] are breaking their word on special-education funding, just as they broke their promise to provide schools the resources they promised when we enacted the No Child Left Behind Act," said Rep. George Miller of California, ranking Democrat on the Committee on Education and the Workforce.
"Congressman Miller and other Democrats support fully funding IDEA over a six-year period; this would take $2.52 billion extra each year for the next six years," said Daniel Weiss, Mr. Miller's spokesman.
Funding for IDEA has increased much more during eight years of Republican control of the House than during the previous eight years of Democratic control, said Alexa Marrero, spokeswoman for Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce.
From fiscal years 1988 to 1995, IDEA funding went from $1.43 billion to $2.32 billion a year, she said. Since Republican takeover of the House in 1994, IDEA funding has increased from $2.32 billion to $8.9 billion this year.
Under the Republican bill introduced yesterday, IDEA funding would be simplified and increased, Miss Marrero said.

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