Education Policy: Research: Historical Overview: Ford:

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009

The Ford Years: Special Education Laws - 1966-1972

The issue of special education for the disabled had received steadily increasing attention in Congress ever since the Kennedy administration, and Johnson and Nixon also added to the number of programs designed to help the handicapped. In 1966, Congress authorized the Comprehensive Health Planning and Public Health Services Amendments (P.L. 89-749) to create a state-federal "Partnership for Health." In 1967, Congress passed both Mental Health and Mental Retardation Amendments (P.L. 90-31 and P.L. 90-170) to serve mentally handicapped students. In 1968, Congress required schools to eliminate all architectural barriers to the physically handicapped and passed the so-called Handicapped Children's Early Education Assistance Act (P.L. 90-538), which included assistance for early childhood education for handicapped three-year-olds. In 1969, Congress created a National Center on Education Media and Materials for the Handicapped, which, in turn, funded the "Sesame Street" television series-a highly successful children's television program.

In the 1970s, the pace of legislation for the disabled quickened. In 1971, Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-MN), whose granddaughter had Downs Syndrome, introduced a bill to increase categorical aid to the handicapped. Using the civil rights language that had animated such cases as PARC v. Pennsylvania and Mills v. Board of Education, he argued that "Every child-gifted, normal, and handicapped-has a fundamental right to educational opportunity." A year later, Senator Harrison Williams (D-NJ), who sat on the Senate Labor and Welfare Committee with Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, presented a similar bill, which he called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Together, Williams and Kennedy sponsored hearings on this bill in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. (Their choice of locations was states because, at the time, these states had generated the most prominent special education lawsuits, and, in the wake of these suits, states such as Massachusetts and Pennsylvania had written the nation's most progressive special education laws.)


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Footnotes: The PDF version of this essay contains extensive footnotes that include numerous citations and supplementary text. For ease of reading, the footnotes are omitted from this version.


To view snapshots of the political context for the Ford administration, see Education Policymakers 1974-1976.