HONOLULU -- Hawaii has spent more than $1 billion in the past seven years trying to meet a court order to bring its care of children with behavioral and emotional problems into compliance with federal law.
Few discount that the state has made improvements, but the cost has been staggering and many parents say the job is just beginning. Some, who don't think enough is being done, are seeking a federal takeover of the compliance effort.
"Hawaii was in a situation where it was doing virtually nothing. Then in a good-faith effort to make up for that, the state signed a consent decree and got itself into a situation that has turned into something of a Frankenstein monster," said Richard Gelles, co-director of the Center for the Study of Youth Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.
Annual costs associated with the decree consume one-eighth of Hawaii's general fund budget -- soaring from $45 million a year in 1994 to $350 million this year. During that time, the number of special education students classified as eligible for services quadrupled from 3,000 to nearly 12,000.
Still, about 40 percent of the state's public schools remain out of even provisional compliance.
School districts in other states have found themselves under federal scrutiny for violations of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
But experts say Hawaii -- the only statewide public school system in the nation -- dwarfs other states in the relative cost and statewide reach of the reforms.
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