Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1957 No. 100 - July 24, 1957
AGO Opinion Header Image
John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


The word "exceptional" as used in a statute refers to above average children and the appropriation for educational services for such children can be used without the enactment of a general statute.  Such funds cannot be used for services for handicapped adults.

                                                                   - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                    July 24, 1957

Honorable Lloyd J. Andrews
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Old Capitol Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 100

Dear Sir:

            You have requested the opinion of this office interpreting the following provisions of the general appropriation act, chapter 301, Laws of 1957:

            "To be expended in accordance with the provisions of chapter 120, Laws of 1943, laws amendatory and supplementary thereto, and chapter 240, Laws of 1947, relating to educational services for handicapped children, including programs of in-service preparation for teachers of handicapped children approved by the State Board of Education and research related to educational services for exceptional children not to exceed one percent of the appropriation $4,250,000.00"

            The specific questions with which you are concerned are as follows:

            (1) Whether the word "exceptional," as used above, would include children above the average as well as below the average in the school system.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (2) If the answer to question 1 is yes, can expenditures be made from this appropriation without a specific statute authorizing a research related to educational services for exceptional children?

            (3) May any of these funds be used to provide educational services for handicapped adults, other than those afflicted with cerebral palsy?

            We answer questions 1 and 2 in the affirmative and question 3 in the negative.


            One of the general principles of statutory construction is that the legislative intent must be ascertained by giving words of a statute their generally accepted meaning in the absence of anything in the statute to the contrary.  Featherstone v. Dessert, 173 Wash. 264; Parker v. Department of Labor & Industries, 14 Wn. (2d) 481;Cochran v. Nelson, 26 Wn. (2d) 82.  The word "exceptional" is defined by Webster's New International Dictionary, (2nd Ed.), as follows:

            ". . . not ordinary; uncommon; rare; hence, better than the average; superior; as,exceptional talents . . ."

            It would appear therefore that the legislature used the word "exceptional" in relation to children in chapter 301, Laws of 1957, as it is generally understood, and by so doing evidenced an intent that research related to educational services for gifted children should be undertaken in the ensuing biennium.

            In answer to your second question, the problem is whether in the absence of a specific statute creating a research project related to educational services for exceptional children, the language used in the appropriation bill is authority for the expenditure of money for that purpose.

            In the case ofState ex rel. Jones v. Clausen, 78 Wash. 103, the supreme court was presented with the problem of interpreting a portion of a general appropriation bill whereby the salaries of various state employees were increased.  In discussing the question the court stated as follows:

            "Appropriation bills, although temporary in duration, are nevertheless general laws.  They are most carefully prepared and maturely considered.  If they do not offend against the constitution  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] and are found to be in irreconcilable conflict with a permanent act, the latter will be held to be suspended or repealed during the time the appropriation bill is in force.  Brooks v. Jones, supra; State ex rel. Buchanan v. State Treasurer, 68 S.C. 411, 47 S.E. 683."

            In that case the court held that the practice of the legislature in the past was to be considered by the courts in ascertaining the intent of the legislature in increasing a salary by an appropriation bill contrary to the salary fixed by an earlier general law.  Although that case relates only to the increase in salaries of certain employees in an appropriation bill contrary to the specific provisions of an earlier statute, it is authority for the proposition that appropriation bills as such are general laws and are authority for the expenditure of funds for the purposes designated.

            In answer to your third question, the specific appropriation with which you are concerned was designated by the legislature for the education ofhandicapped children.  Chapter 120, Laws of 1945, establishes a division of handicapped children in the office of the superintendent of public instruction.  Handicapped children are defined as "those children in school or out of school who are temporarily or permanently retarded in normal educational processes by reason of physical or mental handicap, or by reason of social or emotional maladjustment, or by reason of other handicap."  (RCW 28.13.010)

            The other provisions of the chapter make it clear that the term "children" is used in its common and ordinary meaning, and the word "adult" is not used in the act.  In addition, RCW 28.13.050 provides for special educational and training programs for preschool children three or more years of age.  It is clear, therefore, that chapter 120, Laws of 1943 (chapter 28.13 RCW), relates only to children and does not cover handicapped adults.

            Chapter 240, Laws of 1947 (chapter 70.82 RCW), sets up the cerebral palsy program which is designed clearly to provide aid to adults as well as children. RCW 70.82.030 defines the eligibility of a person for assistance under the program as follows:

            "Any resident of this state who is educable but so severely handicapped as the result of cerebral palsy that he is unable to take advantage of the regular system of free education of this state may be admitted to or be eligible for any service and facilities provided hereunder, provided such resident has lived in this state continuously for more than one year before his application for such admission or eligibility."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            The specific language of the appropriation, with the exception of the cerebral palsy program, restricts the expenditure of funds for the use of handicapped children.  RCW 28.58.190 provides that the common schools shall be open to the admission of all children between the ages of six and twenty-one years.  It is our conclusion, therefore, that the intent of the legislature as evidenced by the wording of the act was that the funds are to be used to provide educational services for handicapped children between the ages of three and twenty-one, and not for handicapped adults.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo