AUSTIN, Texas -- Ross Perot, who led the Texas school reform movement of the 1980s, once said that schools spent a "disproportionate amount of time" on slow learners and learning-disabled students and not enough on "future taxpayers."
The likely presidential candidate offered that and a series of criticisms of public schools in a six-page article that he circulated in 1983 during his push for education improvements.
Mr. Perot wrote that schools focus too much on "problem students, students with learning disabilities and students who cannot learn at all." He said schools should "concentrate attention" on average, above-average and gifted and talented students.
He also cited a "maze" of federal and state laws, and court decisions that "require attention for these groups with learning disabilities."
Tom Luce, a top Perot aide, said Friday that the comments about learning-disabled students do not reflect the Dallas businessman's view.
But the remarks, which attracted little attention several years ago, drew a stinging rebuke Friday from the head of Texas' largest teacher organization and advocates for the learning-disabled.
Kay Lambert of Advocacy Inc., a federally financed legal rights agency for people with disabilities, expressed concern because, she said, Mr. Perot could shape federal policy regarding students with learning and physical disabilities if he were elected president.
"We take strong exception to those statements," she said. "If that sort of attitude were widespread, it would cause us to write off a large number of kids -- and that would be irresponsible."
In response, Mr. Luce said the Dallas billionaire has consistently supported every child's right to learn.
Mr. Luce was not familiar with the document, but he said it could have been an early draft that Mr. Perot never saw.
"I never heard Ross say 'disproportionate,' " Mr. Luce said, adding that Mr. Perot did not propose funding reductions for students with learning disabilities, but rather more money for high achievers. "We did ask for increased emphasis on gifted and talented children, but that was to support increased activity."
Mr. Perot "feels very strongly that every child has the ability to learn," Mr. Luce said. "He supported more funding for education across the board."
A copy of the article, sent anonymously to the Dallas Morning News, included a cover sheet under Mr. Perot's signature.
Other copies were found by the Dallas Morning News in a state lawmaker's office.
On the cover sheet, Mr. Perot said that he wrote the article, "First lTC Impressions," after "studying public issues in Texas."
Mr. Perot headed a committee that studied Texas schools for several months in 1983 and 1984. Most of his committee's recommended reforms were enacted in the summer of 1984, such as the state's no-pass, no-play rule; smaller class sizes; teacher testing; a prekindergarten program for disadvantaged children; and a new subsidy system to help financially strapped schools.