The Special-Ed Bureaucracy Morphs into ‘The Blob’

February 4, 2008

Indiana Writers Group column for release Feb. 6 and thereafter (620 words)

by Jeff Abbott, J.D., Ph.D.

Back in 1958 a movie was released in the theaters called "The Blob." The plot summary was that a mysterious creature from another planet resembling a giant blob of jelly landed on earth and kept getting larger and larger and devoured more and more people as it grew.

Indiana’s government schools are much like the Blob. They keep growing and growing. Nowhere is this more evident than in Indiana’s special education bureaucracy which seems to be expandding exponentially.

It all starts with the federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) enacted by Congress over three decades ago. The federal law with annotations, found in the United States Code Service, is a whopping 405 pages long . . . single spaced.

Of course, any good federal statute needs a few regulations to interpret it. So the United States Department of Education has issued regulations to interpret the statute. These regulations are 307 pages long . . . single spaced.

The Indiana legislature has also added to the pile of laws governing special education. It has passed 181 statutes dealing with the subject, about 53 pages worth . . . single spaced. This “low” number of laws however is quickly compensated for by the Indiana State Board of Education Article 7 regulation governing special education which is 98 pages long . . . single spaced.

But hold onto your hats, staff members of the 30-employee Indiana Department of Education’s Division of Exceptional Learners have been meeting for almost two years with the 24-member State Advisory Council on the Education of Children with Disabilities to rewrite the State Board of Education’s Article 7. The proposed rewrite, with comments, is 181 pages long . . . single spaced.

What is noteworthy is that the proposed rewrite in several areas significantly expands Indiana’s obligations under IDEA. In other words, the proposed revision to Article 7 goes beyond the requirements of the federal law. It may be argued that the proposed revision to Article 7 is necessary to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act passed by Congress in 2004, which reauthorized IDEA. But do the teachers and leaders of schools, and the citizens of Indiana, really need more laws governing special education when there are over 531 pages of laws on the books now? How much will this cost the Indiana taxpayers? Nowhere in the Article 7 proposed revision is there any estimate of added costs to Indiana taxpayers.

The almost two-year revision process is yet another example of how long the government bureaucracy takes to implement change. However, this is not the major problem. The revision process is being done publicly, but is not transparent. First, who is revising Article 7? The answer is that the special-education lobby is in control of the process. Both sides, the Division and the Council, consist of educators and special-education advocates. Where are the representatives of the business community? Where are the representatives of taxpayer groups? They simply are not part of the process.

Further, if one would try and find out what is going on in the discussions, the Department of Education has made it difficult to obtain the information. Nowhere does this information appear on the “Hot Topics” or “Current News” on the home-page of the DOE web site. In fact, one would have to go the DOE home page and make no less than four clicks of pull-down menus, and make a wild guess by choosing among dozens of options. Thus, the information needed is buried well in the abyss of the DOE web site.

The citizens of Indiana will be well served by a process that is more inclusive of all Indiana citizens and one that is much more transparent than currently exists.

Jeff Abbott, Ph.D., J.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, was a former Indiana school superintendent and is now a licensed attorney and university professor. Contact him at jabbott@inpolicy.org.



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