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LEGISLATURE URGED TO GIVE MORE FUNDS TO SPECIAL-ED

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Disappointed that Gov. Norm Bangerter's education budget did not address the issue, the Davis School Board approved a resolution Tuesday night calling for the Legislature to correct special education funding shortfalls within four years.

The resolution, which will be sent to Davis County legislators, said that, since 1985, special education programs have only been funded at 80 percent, creating a financial and service crisis in many local school districts. The board also hopes other school boards will adopt a similar resolution and lobby legislators for a funding increase.By law, schools must provide special-needs children with services as varied as toilet training, tube feeding, physical therapy and speech therapy. Districts have been forced to cut back some non-essential services and staff, including aides who assist handicapped students enrolled in regular classrooms.

Superintendent Richard Kendell said the Davis District is caught in a downward funding spiral. Legislative underfunding of the special education program leads to cutbacks one year, and, because of the cutbacks, the programs qualify for less funding the next.

In its resolution, the board called for an annual increase of at least 5 percent in the weighted pupil unit for special education beginning this year, making it 100 percent funded in 1994. The governor's education budget, released Monday, includes no increase in funding.

Davis, Granite, Jordan and Murray superintendents and special education directors also have endorsed the plan. Kathie Bone of the Davis Education Association, said she supports the board's request.

Other groups, including the American Federation of Teachers, the Association of Retarded Citizens and the PTA, have asked for full funding of the program this year. The State Board of Education has requested that one-third be reinstated this year.

Ken Zenger, of the American Federation of Teachers, told the board he believes sensitivities could be raised in the 1990 legislative session to provide the additional $15 million needed to fully fund special education programs.

"We believe it is a critical need and should be addressed immediately. It is second on our (legislative) agenda," Zenger said.

In addition to legislative remedies, the Davis County educators are threatening to file a discrimination complaint on Jan. 9 with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights unless the state commits to do something about funding shortfalls. The complaint, and perhaps lawsuits, are something the Davis District feared might happen because of the special education service crunch.

Joe Langeveld, a Davis District psychologist, said Utah's 40 school districts are in violation of federal special-education laws in at least 32 areas.

Davis Superintendent Richard Kendell said while he fully understands the problems being raised by the educators, he does not support the complaint and believes the legislative route would be more effective.