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Special Education Let us not turn back the clock.

The Governor of Massachusetts is asking the state legislature to change the law governing special education so that the Commonwealth can save a great deal of money. He has told the legislature to have the courage to face parents who will make emotional appeals. His major concern is that 17 percent of all students are classified as having special needs, putting Massachusetts above the national average of 11 percent. He is also alarmed that 25 percent of the budget is used for students with special needs, and that state standard is the maximum possible opportunity rather than the Federal standard. Years ago, with bipartisan support, Massachusetts was at the forefront in legislation and support for youngsters with difficulties in learning. They used to pride themselves as being the model for innovative national legislation.

These new attitudes, however, are shaping similar efforts to cut services throughout the country. Let us look at the facts:

* In Massachusetts, students with disabilities are succeeding at a higher rate than other states--they have higher graduation rates, lower dropout rates, and higher rates of eventual inclusion in regular education. We should be concerned that special education statistics are not reflecting the true number of students with special needs in our state. We should wonder how many children are being penalized as a result of not being identified.

* By comparing the number of children with special needs to the money spent on them, they are implying that the costs of educating youngsters with special problems should not cost any more than regular education. This fosters comments by parents and teachers that children with special needs are getting an unfair share of the education budget.

There is a simple remedy. There is more tax money available at national and local levels than ever before. We should be providing all parents with the "maximum possible benefit" for all children instead of denying it to the most vulnerable group. We can afford to increase the overall budget rather than cutting a specific area There is a sentiment not to add money without having accountability. This a reasonable request, and we should increase the budget for monitoring all programs and restore the serious budget cuts that have made evaluation so difficult.

Following is a statement issued by the Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts: Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston; the Most Reverend Sean O'Malley, OFM Cap, bishop of Fall River; the Most Reverend Thomas Dupre, bishop of Springfield; and the Most Reverend Daniel Reilly, bishop of Worcester. The Bishops are the only group who have spoken in this debate about the importance of the dignity of each child and have best expressed a logical argument.
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Author:Schleifer, Maxwell J.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:May 1, 2000
Words:443
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