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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, July 25, 2002

Special-ed dispute should put kids first

As the battle of wills continues over who should be in charge of the state's program of special-education services, we make one plea:

Please put the children first.

The latest round of squabbling over the special-education program took place this week when a special master overseeing a federal consent decree between the state and special-education families urged at least 17 more months of close court supervision.

Both Master Jeffrey Portnoy and special monitor Ivor Groves said they feared political meddling could cause backsliding in the progress made thus far. That means the court should keep its eye on things, they said.

Their warning of political interference was clearly focused on a special joint legislative committee set up to investigate reports of waste and abuse in the effort to get the state in compliance with federal laws for special-education students.

At the same time, there have been suggestions that the Legislature is less interested in rooting out waste in the special-education program than it is in keeping some of the millions of dollars it requires for other programs and services.

The co-chairs of the special committee, Rep. Scott Saiki and Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, scoff at that idea. And they say the Legislature has a right — indeed, an obligation — to see that public tax dollars are spent properly and wisely. Some lawmakers have complained that the court-ordered program resulted in overly expensive programs that did little other than drain resources from other vital needs.

The irony in all this is that the people on the front line, the teachers and Health and Education department officials, have come in for high praise for their work. The two departments, perhaps backed by an indifferent Legislature, came late to this work, but once they got going, they attacked it with vigor and determination.

If the people who know and work with our children on a daily basis are allowed to get on with the job, free from external legal or political pressure, then surely we will meet our promise to our special-education students.