03 Jun Framingham Wants More State Funding for In-District Special Ed (MA)June 3, 2010
By: Scott O'ConnellSource: The Metro West Daily News
The School Committee thinks that the state should reward schools that keep special education students in their own districts.
Now the committee is looking for legislation to back it up.
Committee member Andy Limeri drafted the committee’s resolution, which was sent to the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. He said the state’s existing funding formula for special education disproportionately goes to pay for students who are placed outside their home district. Those placements can cost four times the average per-pupil cost in Massachusetts.
In contrast, the cost for students staying in-district is usually only double that of regular education students, Limeri said.
His resolution aims to modify the current formula, called the special education circuit breaker, to instead encourage school districts to est ablish more in-district placements for students. Under Limeri’s proposal, the state would pay a district 75 percent over the average cost for special needs students educated in the local school system.
"The goal of this is to ask for some assistance with bringing students in-district," Limeri said. "Over the last few years, it’s really bothered me a lot … we actually lose the reward of doing something right."
Sending students out-of-district is a far more expensive option, Limeri said. Based on statewide special education data from 2008, he said the average out-of-district placement costs $61,869, while the average in-district placement was $18,170.
According to Framingham’s Special Education Director Pam Kaufmann, the state’s circuit breaker creates a disincentive for school districts to keep students in-district. In Framingham, for instance, there are only about a dozen in-district special education students who qualify for the circuit breaker versus approximately 200 who qualify out-of-district.
With more funding for in-district programs, Kaufmann said towns like Framingham could better serve their special needs students.
"It’s socially and educationally better for those students to be with their typical peers in a typical school," she said.
Without the proper funding from the state, however, the district is not able to pay for the necessary one-on-one aides and other support needed to properly educate special education students with extra needs, Kaufmann added.
With the threshold for the circuit breaker eligibility rising each year, Kaufmann worries that even fewer in-district students will be eligible in the near future.
"I’m very nervous," she said. "Any level of reimbursement is an incentive to hold onto those kids."
J.C. Considine, a spokesman in the state Department of Secondary and Elementary Education, agreed that in-district placement serves students better than out-of-district. He said the state encourages districts to build their in-district programs but declined to comment on whether the circuit breaker funding needed tweaking.
Past efforts to change the state’s special education formula through legislation have "not gone anywhere," according to Kaufmann.
"Typically there are people who feel, ‘Let’s not tinker with something, because everything could be impacted,"’ she said.
Framingham School Committee members were hopeful their latest resolution could gain traction, however.
"We’re hoping if it gets the support of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, it will drive the legislation," committee chairman Michael Bower said.
The school board is hoping to get its resolution heard at the Massachusetts Association of School Committee’s annual meeting on Nov. 3.