Jewish World Review April 11, 2001 / 18 Nissan, 5761
Not a good IDEA
BURIED in President Bush’s liberal-spending, $44.5 billion education budget is a little-noticed proposal to increase funds for special education.
The budget item intends to help states and school districts comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The law
theoretically guarantees a "free and appropriate education" to disabled students. In practice, it provides neither.
The feds spent $6 billion last year on IDEA, which covers an estimated 6 million students with physical, learning, or emotional disabilities.
Bush’s budget allows states to steer up to $1.2 billion more in federal funding toward special education needs. Many advocates for the
disabled complain that this commitment from Washington is inadequate. (In New York City alone, where disabled students comprise less than
13 percent of the school population, the annual cost for special ed is an estimated $2 billion, or nearly one-quarter of total education spending.)
But more money will not fix the myriad problems with this fundamentally flawed government mandate.
A recent case in Seattle is illustrative. The Seattle Times reported last weekend that the city school district paid a woman $180,000 to keep her
blind, autistic son out of the public system. The 16-year-old boy had injured a bus driver, a school aide, and several teachers. In fact, the Times
noted: "He got off to a stormy start, head-butting a special-education teacher on his first visit. The teacher said the boy also grabbed a knife
from a table and went after his mother, who wrestled it away from him."
Why were Seattle officials (or rather, taxpayers) forced into the unprecedented position of having to pay the mother off to remove the troubled
boy from campus? Because IDEA effectively bars schools from disciplining and expelling disabled students for disruptive behavior, whether or
not that behavior is related to their disability and whether or not the disability was diagnosed before the disruptive incident took place.
To make matters worse, former President Clinton enacted changes to IDEA’s definition of disability to include just about any kid with an
attitude problem. It has been a boondoggle for lawyers and child psychologists-for-hire, and a nightmare for teachers and administrators. The
unfortunate Southeast Delco School District in Pennsylvania, for example, took a double blow when one special-ed student (who showed
"aggression with peers") set fire to a school cafeteria two years ago -- and then won a federal lawsuit last month blaming the school
for violating his rights under IDEA.
In Richmond County, Ga., a special ed student repeatedly urinated on his classmates because he understood he couldn't be disciplined like his
peers. In Fairfax County, Va., a student who brought a loaded gun to school with his friends went unpunished (and bragged about it) because
he had been diagnosed with a "weakness in written language skills." Special education teachers in Missouri complained to legislators that they
suffer great abuse under IDEA, and that compliance requirements leave them unable to tend to pressing educational needs.
IDEA’s concept of "mainstreaming" is based not on sound science, but on political science. Zealous activists, embracing a radical egalitarian
agenda, pushed for the integration of all disabled kids into the public schools at all costs. But is such forced and illusory "inclusion" worth the
In the Seattle case, the disabled student had been thriving in a separate program specially designed for handicapped children. His violent rages
had been reduced dramatically. When he was "mainstreamed" into the public high school, however, his condition worsened. The school
district used federal IDEA funds to put the boy in a padded basement room for months. Other students ridiculed him as "the kid in the cage."
The boy had no credible curriculum and no competent teachers – just a bunch of glorified baby-sitters and security guards who generated
paperwork for the federal education bureaucracy.
IDEA has failed to integrate the most severely disabled students into regular public schools, redefined "disabled" to encompass incorrigible
troublemakers, hamstrung school districts trying to enact effective discipline, and encouraged frivolous litigation. President Bush should walk
the talk of educational accountability: For the sake of the children, don’t fund bad ideas. Fix them
JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.
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© 2001, Creators Syndicate