Legislative Forum Brings Attention to Challenges Facing Special Education
Area legislators, League School supporters, Massachusetts Association of 766 Approved Private Schools (maaps) leaders, and staff gathered on Friday, December 6, to learn about the League School and the challenges facing special educators. After participants enjoyed a complimentary breakfast and some networking time, Chief Operating Officer, Larry Sauer kicked off the meeting with a video tour of the school. Executive Director, Frank Gagliardi, noted that the school was established in 1966 for students who were “emotionally disturbed” as autism wasn’t understood at the time. Although much progress has been made and autism is now a recognized diagnosis, the prevalence is growing at startling rates.
State Senator Paul Feeney praised the League School for its incredible work and said it was apparent the school and its staff cared about the students. He commended maaps for keeping legislators aware of the resources needed for special education. After introducing State Representative Paul McMurtry, Senator Feeney said they and other area legislators, including Senator Michael Rush, and Representatives John Rogers and David Robertson, were committed to making a difference for special education students.
New maaps Executive Director, Elizabeth Dello Russo Becker, provided an overview of maaps and its work supporting the 80 private special education schools in Massachusetts. “Schools like the League School are special places that change student lives,” she said. She outlined the challenges of special education in Massachusetts:
- The majority of maaps members operate at a deficit. For FY2018, that deficit was $22.2 million total. Schools depend on fundraising to close their budget gaps.
- Finding quality employees is difficult. On average, maaps school teachers make almost $26,000 less than public school teachers.
- The special education population is growing. Since the mid-2000s, the special education population has skyrocketed by 50,000 more students, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Ms. Becker pointed to progress on the legislative front. The Student Opportunity Act enables reimbursements to school districts for out-of-district transportation. She outlined other legislative priorities.
Student parent, Carrie Murphy, gave a moving statement about the impact the League School has had on her autistic daughter’s life. She recounted the long process the family went through to find a school for her daughter. “For the past 18 months, our daughter has blossomed,” said Ms. Murphy. “All of her needs are being met and we don’t need to supplement services. She is thriving under the thoughtful care of the League School, she has friends, and she’s happy to go to school.”
League School student, Anthony, closed out the event by thanking the legislators for their support. He said that the school was the best autism school out there. We couldn’t have said it better.
To see additional photos from our Legislators’ Day, click below.