- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

The Senate voted 95-3 yesterday to change discipline rules for the federal special education program and to increase funding for disabled students by more than $2 billion a year for the next seven years.

Federal spending for disabled students would increase from $10 billion to $12.4 billion in fiscal 2005, and gradually to $26.1 billion by fiscal 2011, under an amendment offered by Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, which the Senate adopted 96-1 Wednesday.

“Today, six-and-a-half million children with disabilities receive special education services. Almost all of them, 96 percent, are learning alongside their non-disabled peers,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“It’s our statement as a nation that these children matter and that we will do our part to help their parents and teachers and communities meet their education goals.”

Mr. Gregg, the chairman of the committee, said Republicans and Democrats were in agreement on 90 percent of the bill before debate started on funding issues.

“It is a very strong step forward in the area of addressing the needs of children who have special needs, basically focused on making sure there is less bureaucracy and more care, that teachers have more flexibility and parents have more involvement, and that there is less litigation and more results,” Mr. Gregg said.

The bill, which goes to conference with the House, allows schools to remove a disabled child from the classroom if he causes serious bodily harm to another. The school can keep the child from the classroom for up to 45 days.

Disabled children whose behavior is seriously disruptive also can be removed from school if the behavior is not a result of the child’s disability or the school’s failure to provide needed services to the child.

Disruptive children can be placed in an alternative education program while a complaint and possible appeals by parents are under way.

The bill changes provisions under the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that force schools to keep students in their existing special education classroom once a parent files a complaint, regardless of the danger he poses to others.

“The legislation provides more flexibility for schools to discipline students, with safeguards so that discipline is not used as an excuse to halt educational services and is not used to exclude or segregate disabled children because of the failure of the school to provide for the educational needs of the child,” Mr. Kennedy said.

By voice vote, senators adopted a proposal by Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, for a four-year pilot program to permit 15 states to waive paperwork and other requirements that cause teachers to spend noninstructional time. The amendment would not allow the Education Department to waive any civil rights requirements.

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