Lawmakers delay revamping of special ed bill

Posted: Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Proposed changes to the state's special education law, which parents of gifted and talented students opposed, probably won't be made this year.

Sen. Mike Miller, chairman of the Senate Health Education and Social Services Committee, said the issue needs to be worked on some more and come back before the Legislature next year.

House Bill 301 and Senate Bill 205 had been introduced by Gov. Tony Knowles to bring state special education laws into compliance with the newest version of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

State Department of Education officials have said the federal government could cut off about $14 million in federal funds to Alaska if the state doesn't come into compliance.

However, Miller, a North Pole Republican, said he doesn't believe there will be immediate consequences to not passing the legislation. ``There could be, but it's probably not that real a threat for one year,'' he said.

Alaska's congressional delegation has indicated the federal special education money will not be withheld if the state takes another year to work out the problem, Miller said.

Harry Gamble, a spokesman in the state Department of Education, said the agency had no clear assurance of that so far from the federal Department of Education. Federal officials dealing with the issue could not be reached by the Empire's midday deadline.

The legislation became controversial because it changed the way the state law deals with education of students identified as gifted and talented.

``What killed it, I understand, was the gifted part of it,'' Gamble said.

One thing the federal government wanted changed was Alaska's use of federal special education money to pay for an appeal process for parents who aren't happy with the help a school district is providing their child.

That appeal process has been used both by parents of children with disabilities and by parents of children who are considered gifted. Using the money to help students other than those with disabilities is not allowed by federal law, so gifted students' appeals should not have been funded that way, according to the federal government.

Parents of children identified as gifted and talented were unhappy that their children would no longer have access to the appeal process. A change in a House committee disturbed them even more because it removed the requirement that schools provide special programs for gifted and talented students.

Groups representing children with disabilities were generally happy with the legislation because they said other aspects of the measure, which adopted federal law, gave them more tools to advocate for their children's education.

Among the changes in federal law that the legislation adopted were provisions for a mediation process when parents of children with disabilities are dissatisfied with their child's education; requirements for additional data collection; and an increase in the number of people who must be part of the team writing an individualized education plan for a child with a disability.

``The department needs to get together with both groups of parents and try to work out a compromise,'' Miller said.

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