Addressing the rising cost of special education

  • Variation in the percentage of students in a district identified with high incidence of disabilities CONTRIBUTED IMAGE


Published: 9/23/2020 2:17:33 PM

From the Berkshire Mountains to Cape Cod, Massachusetts has continuously set the standard for public education across the United States. For decades, our excellent levels of reading and math comprehension and exceptional high school graduation rates have made us a national leader across the board. Yet a serious crisis has been looming on the horizon for years: the rising cost of special education. With one out of every six public school students in the state requiring some form of special education services, analyzing how we can continue to fund this critical education will be essential for the fiscal stability of our municipalities.

Special education identification rates vary considerably across our state’s school districts, ranging from a low of 9% to as high as 29% in areas like the Second Franklin District. This above-average rate of special education students is causing an increasingly heavy burden on local budgets. At the Swift River School alone, which serves New Salem and Wendell, special education costs have risen 55% since 2016.

Additionally, since the state funds districts based on an assumed percentage, not the actual number of students in a district, many of our towns are left with severe shortfalls. As David McLellan noted in the Daily Hampshire Gazette “In towns like Orange, where special education students made up around 26% of total enrollment last year, this gap is more than $3 million.” Simply put: these funding formulas are crippling our communities and costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

While problems with special education funding will continue to dominate budget talks across this district, we should not assume our problems are unique. There are a number of districts across the commonwealth confronting the very same fiscal challenges.

If elected as your state representative, I will focus on building coalitions with leaders in similar districts and passing robust, well-crafted legislation to reform these funding formulas. We need to collaborate at the state level on projects that will improve our economy, our schools, and the ability for communities to maintain quality educational services.

In the short term, we should re-engage with bills like S.2465 that sought to commission a study to quantify the special education gap across the state. In the long term, we should seek to craft a more common-sense funding formula for special education based on best practices from other states and one that covers these glaring funding gaps in communities like our own.

Thanks so much for all your help and let me know your thoughts!

Will LaRose is a candidate for state representative in the Second Franklin District.

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