State must clarify use of special education funds

Posted: Wednesday, November 22, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The state must clarify its special education regulations to differentiate between gifted and talented students and disabled students or risk losing $14 million in federal funds.

''I don't want to jeopardize that money,'' said state Deputy Education Commissioner Bruce Johnson, who proposed the change.

The two categories of students are currently lumped together under the ''special education'' umbrella.

Johnson said the state has been using some disabled student oversight money illegally to check on gifted students.

''At one point we fudged a little bit and used the federal dollars for that,'' Johnson said. ''We got caught and they said stop doing that.''

In addition, special disciplinary considerations granted to disabled children -- they cannot be suspended or expelled because of misbehavior related to their disabilities -- have been requested from parents of gifted and talented children, according to state special education Director Greg Maloney.

Maloney said the change will make clear what belongs to special education, the students with disabilities, and what belongs to gifted and talented students.

Maloney said gifted students will get the same considerations under the new regulation as they receive now.

Parents of gifted children aren't happy with that. They fear their children will lose their public school benefits if they are not considered ''special needs,'' as disabled children are.

''These are exceptional children who are very much at risk,'' said Susan Black, a mother of two gifted children.

''Our children have needs too,'' said Maggie Castellini, who also has two gifted children.

Johnson offered a compromise to the parents, saying he would seek more funding from the Legislature for gifted program oversight in addition to the proposed regulation.

Currently the Department of Education receives $13,000 from the Legislature to make sure districts are following state law and providing special programs for gifted and talented students. Johnson said that amount is inadequate. He said the state is planning to ask lawmakers for $177,000 this spring.

The money would be used to hire individuals to audit school districts' gifted and talented programs.

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