The Patriot Ledger
Posted Apr 24, 2010 @ 04:22 PM
COMMENTARY BY LAWRENCE E. SAUER — Many people in Massachusetts know education funding is one of the most crucial and challenging issues we are facing, and that some students are lacking in educational resources.
Now, imagine a special needs student, already disadvantaged, who is struggling but may not have access to necessary learning tools and treatment in school because of a lack of funding that has reached crisis proportions.
Through my work at Cardinal Cushing School, I witness this happening to special needs students every day, so I’m asking the Legislature to listen.
Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposed 2011 budget cuts funding for special education by 41 percent and freezes private special education schools tuition rates for the second year in a row. This, while increasing regular education spending by $178 million. The special education cuts, if carried out through the budget process over the next several months, will mean that the needs of the most severely disabled children in our state will not be met.
Another factor is the increasing number of disabled children surviving to school age because of medical advances. The number of moderately-to-severely disabled children, age 0-3, served in Massachusetts early intervention services has more than tripled, increasing from 6,000 to 26,000 from 1992 to 2007. Children born at low birth weight or those born prematurely are surviving in higher numbers, and are far more likely to require intensive, highly specialized and costly services for many years to come.
The private schools, members of the Massachusetts Association of Approved Private Schools, that teach our state’s special needs students offer highly trained specialists, and in many cases operate 24/7, 365 days a year. They have experts to teach autistic children, experts who educate deaf and blind students, and have teachers and clinicians for those with other learning-and-behavioral disabilities.
Chapter 766 schools serve over 6,000 of the most challenged and vulnerable public students in our state. These students are only placed in C766 schools when public schools are not equipped to provide the specialized education and treatment they require. In many cases, the graduates are able to become productive members of society and contribute to our economy, often living independently and holding meaningful jobs.
Not only do many of the graduates go on to become contributing members of the state’s economy, the schools bring in over $165 million to the commonwealth annually through out-of-state students, and they employ nearly 11,000 teachers, clinicians and child care staff.
I encourage lawmakers to ensure all children – those taught out of district in private special needs settings as well as others – get the best education possible.
Lawrence E. Sauer is vice president for student programs and Services at Cardinal Cushing School, a special education day and residential school in Hanover.