Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Formulating Optimal State Early Childhood Intervention Policies

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Formulating Optimal State Early Childhood Intervention Policies

Article excerpt

Formulating Optimal State Early Childhood Intervention Policies

The past decade has witnessed an increased federal involvement in the educational, psychological, and social-familial needs of young handicapped children. In 1975 the preschool State Implementation Grant and Preschool Incentive Grant programs of Public Law 94-142 were enacted. These federal programs encouraged state and local governments to increase and enhance their services to young handicapped children.

Two major amendments to P.L. 94-142 further accelerated this policy-making process. P.L. 98-199, the Education of the Handicapped Amendments of 1983, established a state-level process designed to encourage planning and coordination of all early education programs with particular emphasis on handicapped infants and children. The amendments established and funded multiyear state-level efforts, known as State Plan Grants, that were designed to provide expanded services to more children starting at earlier ages, with increased state agency intercoordination.

These amendments have since been superceded by a new amendment, known as P.L. 99-457, signed into law in 1986. This law represents the most far-reaching federal policy ever implemented for early childhood intervention. Although the bill stops short of mandating universal services to children younger than age 5, it strengthens incentives for states to serve 3-6-year-olds, and it establishes a new discretionary program for services to birth-3-year-olds. In short, it will result in nearly all states significantly increasing their programs for young handicapped children and modifying and expanding their policies. The direction these changes take will be dictated, in part, by the regulations formulated for P.L. 99-457. However, future early intervention efforts will also be influenced by existing state policies, as well as by each state's perception of the composition of optimal state early childhood intervention policies.

This study is designed to assist this policy-making process by answering two important research questions. First, what is the status of state early childhood intervention policies nationwide prior to the implementation of P.L. 99-457? In particular, what are the states' existing policies regarding children to be served, lead administering agencies, services to be provided, funding sources, interagency contracts, program regulations, certification of teachers, and training of professionals?

The second research question focuses on how the states' policies compare with an index of optimal early childhood intervention policies. By comparing existing policies to such an index it is possible to determine which areas of state policy making represent strengths and weaknesses, whether a mandate or an entitlement are sufficient conditions for establishing optimal policies, and which factors contribute to optimal early childhood intervention policy.

METHOD

Study Design and Respondents

A questionnaire consisting of 26 closed-ended, or forced-choice, questions that focused solely on current state policies was distributed to the directors of the P.L. 98-199 State Plan Grants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The questionnaires were returned by all of the states and the District of Columbia between December 1985 and May 1986. Forty-five of the respondents were Coordinators or Directors of their state's planning grant; the other respondents held Early Childhood Special Education supervisory positions in their State Education Agency (SEA). For convenience, states will refer to all respondents, including the District of Columbia.

Reliability

The majority of the data reported in this study consists of the perceptions and information available solely to the State Plan Grant directors. Nevertheless, it was possible to compare approximately 25% of the questionnaire items with information available from three other sources: a Congressional Research Service monograph on early intervention (Fraas, 1986); a national directory of state early childhood special education services (Carran, 1984); and a series of documents about individual state laws and policies collected by the State Technical Assistance Resource Team (START), an organization funded by the U. …

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