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Special Education: Promises and Problems

By Priscilla Pardin

There is little doubt that the nation's special education system is the most heavily regulated and under-funded of all federal education mandates. It is also one of the most controversial. For example, a disproportionate number of minority children are in special education programs, particularly African-American children, who make up 14.8 percent of the population, but 20.2 percent of all special education students. Also alarming: special education students' poor outcomes, particularly in terms of academic progress and graduation rates that average about 25 percent.

Meanwhile, the battle lines are being drawn in Washington over reauthorization of IDEA, passed in 1975 to ensure a "free appropriate public education" for students with disabilities. The last reauthorization was in 1997.

The two main sides in the Congressional debate: