Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The Nixon Years: Funding Special Education
School officials in Washington, D.C., claimed they could not afford the programs that the plaintiffs in Mills required unless the "Congress of the United States appropriates millions of dollars to improve special education services in the District of Columbia." The court, however, rejected this plea, asserting that "the District of Columbia's interest in educating the excluded children clearly must outweigh its interest in preserving its financial resources. If sufficient funds are not available to finance all of the services and programs that are needed and desirable in the system, then the available funds must be expended equitably in such a manner that no child is entirely excluded from a publicly supported education consistent with his needs and [his] ability to benefit therefrom. The inadequacies of the District of Columbia public school system, whether occasioned by insufficient funding or administrative inefficiency, certainly cannot be permitted to bear more heavily on the 'exceptional' or handicapped child than on the normal child."
In other words, the schools had to provide disabled students with "appropriate" services-either in integrated or in isolated classes, depending on recommendations of periodic placement hearings-and financial hardship was no excuse not to do so. In fact, read closely, the court's decision in Mills implied that, when comparing resources for disabled and non-disabled children, merely "equal" resources would not suffice; in order to block allegations of discriminatory treatment, disabled children were actually entitled to more resources than non-disabled children. (Incidentally, a year after the Mills ruling, Congress responded to the needs of handicapped students not by providing more aid but, rather, by extending civil rights protections to these students: the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 declared that "no 'otherwise qualified handicapped individual' shall be excluded from participation in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance" and defined a handicapped individual as a person who had a mental or physical impairment "which substantially limits one or more . . . major life activities.")