Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The Ford Years: Legislative History - P.L. 94-142
The legislative history of P.L. 94-142 provides a glimpse into the various issues that later came to complicate the subject of special education. Arguments in favor of the legislation were made primarily on civil rights ground (i.e., "equal access to high-quality education"), though a few members of Congress claimed potential economic benefits to be gained from educating handicapped citizens. The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National School Boards Association (an organization that later turned against special education because of its high costs) both supported P.L. 94-142, and advocates agreed unanimously on the desirability of "mainstreaming" handicapped and non-handicapped students into the same classrooms whenever possible. Not a single witness testified in congressional hearings against the bill, which passed by wide margins. In June, 1975, the Senate passed its version of the bill by a vote of 83 to 10, and, a few weeks later, the House passed its version by a vote of 375 to 44.
The key difference between the House and Senate versions had to do with the number of students in each local school district who could be classified as handicapped. The Senate put a 10-percent cap on the number of pupils (aged three to twenty-one) who could be classified as disabled, while the House put a more lenient 12-percent cap on the number of pupils (aged five to seventeen) who could be so classified. The Senate put no limit on the proportion of students who could be placed in any given category, but, in an effort to keep costs down, the House version put a limit of 2 percent on the proportion of students who could be classified as learning disabled. Neither the Senate nor the House specified any diagnostic criteria for the disabilities to be covered in the bill (leaving these criteria up to individual states), but both incorporated due-process guarantees from recent court decisions to ensure "appropriate" placements in the "least restrictive environment." Both the Senate and the House paid lip service to the idea of mainstreaming, but neither indicated that classroom integration should take precedence over special classes if special classes promised better educational results.