How does a school educate a child who has physical handicaps that prevent him from learning in the way most children do? That is a difficult question-even more difficult than it first appears. For the question depends on how much you are able to spend.

Consider the case, as the Supreme Court just did, of Amy Rowley, an 11-year-old student in Westchester County, New York. Amy has minimal residual hearing, is an excellent lip-reader, and with the help of special services provided by the school district has made an above-average academic record. Those services include an FM hearing aid to amplify words therapist three hours a week. Such services are not inexpensive, but they are much less costly than anher parents who are also deaf, and instruction from a tutor for the deaf one hour daily and from a speech passed by Congress in 1975 provides funds for special services for handicapped pupils and requires local other service her parents requested: that she be provided with a sign-language interpreter in all her academic classes. This would have cost $15,000, and when the school board rejected the request, Amy's parents brought a lawsuit.

Similar things are happening all over the country. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of handicap. Parents are guaranteed the right to participate in formulating these programs, and parents school districts to prepare "individualized education programs" for every child identified as having any kind not obliged to provide services "sufficient to maximize each child's potential." He reads the law as redissatisfied with the decisions of school authorities have brought hundreds of lawsuits. The Rowley case is the first such suit to wind up in the Supreme Court.

The issue was whether the "free appropriate public education" guaranteed by the act required the provision of a sign-language interpreter. Justice Rehnquist, writing for the court, said schools are make a handicapped child the functional equivalent of a child who has no handicaps. quiring access to public schools, but not the complete panoply of services that might be necessary to ing that the justices would disagree about what is an "appropriate" education--and then left the state

The court, as three dissenting justices charged, may be reading Congress' intent more narrowly than is justified, but the result is a sensible one. This statute is one of those laws that Congress wrote with the best of intentions and with the most meager regard for the cost of achieving them. It wrote a statute in vague terms--it is hardly surprisstimulated local school boards to be more forthcoming and generous than many had been in providing and local authorities to handle all the difficult details and to pay a large part of the bills. It has money to spend on services for many other children. Of course, it can be heart-wrenching in a case like special services for the handicapped. But it has also promised more than can be delivered, given the fact --a fact that Congress often lost sight of in the 1970s--that society's resources are limited.

The fact that resources are limited means that if a school board spends $15,000 on a sign-language interpreter for a single student, it is going to have less of some handicapped rights groups--that people with physical handicaps be able to function as if they did Amy Rowley's to say no. But there are limits to what society can afford, limits which suggest that the goal not have them--is simply not attainable.