The state requirement that school districts identify gifted and talented students and provide special programs for them was restored in a special education bill approved by the House Finance Committee on Wednesday.
But the mandate was trimmed from three pages to one paragraph, leaving it up to the Department of Education and Early Development to pass regulations.
Another House panel, considering changes to the education program for students with disabilities, had decided to eliminate the mandate as part of an effort to conform with federal regulations.
Rep. John Coghill, a North Pole Republican, said he was trying to separate a federal civil right from a state policy choice. The federal government does not allow its aid to states to be spent on gifted education, and Coghill said gifted education should be addressed in a separate bill, although not this year.
At first, it appeared that view would prevail in the Finance Committee, creating an uncertain future for gifted programs in the 2001-02 school year.
Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican, noted districts would be free to continue their programs and would have money available. Funding for gifted education comes from a state block grant for a handful of special needs.
"Let them do it," Mulder said.
Bruce Johnson of the education department said larger districts probably would continue their programs because of their visibility. But in smaller districts, where two or three students in a population of 60 might be identified as gifted or talented, the program could be in more jeopardy because it's likely that the regular teaching staff is doing the work, he said.
Rep. Eric Croft, an Anchorage Democrat, offered an amendment to restore the state mandate, with detailed guidelines on identifying, evaluation and placement of gifted or talented students. It failed 6-5.
Rep. John Davies, a Fairbanks Democrat, followed up with an amendment simply saying districts "shall establish educational services for gifted children." Mulder suggested "may" instead of "shall," but Davies said that would change nothing. Hudson suggested districts "shall consider" gifted programs. But Davies persisted, saying that without the mandate parents of gifted children couldn't insist school districts establish the programs.
The bill passed without objection.