His Excellency Charles D. Baker Governor of the Commonwealth
State House, Boston
Dear Governor Baker,
On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is seeking supplemental funding this year for the special education “circuit breaker” program through which the state provides a measure of support for services provided to high-need and high-cost special education students. The amount in the fiscal 2018 general appropriations act is not sufficient to cover the state’s statutory share of this program.
Under section 5A of Chapter 71B of the General Laws, the state’s share is 75 percent of costs
that exceed four times the state average per pupil foundation budget. This is an essential program that provides critical funding to assist all school districts in the Commonwealth with the growing cost of complex and expensive special education placements. In fiscal 2015, the last year for which we have information, special education expenditures totaled $2.6 billion or about 21 percent of local school budgets, and we know these numbers have grown since.
Reimbursements for the “circuit breaker” and related programs in fiscal 2018 are funded at $281 million (7061-0012), which reflects the original estimate of the state’s share of costs, but falls far short of the necessary amount. We expect that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will issue a preliminary year-end funding number later this month, and we ask that this amount be included in the next fiscal 2018 supplemental budget bill that you file with the Legislature. We estimate that the shortfall could reach $25 million or more. Cities and towns are struggling under the financial burdens caused by the lack of full reimbursement, and school districts are facing serious problems as a result.
Municipal and school officials recognize the importance of providing and managing high-quality special education programs that help schoolchildren achieve their maximum educational potential. We ask that the state fully fund its obligation.
We thank you for the strong support you have provided to cities and towns, and ask that you support communities on this key fiscal 2018 funding need. If you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to have your office contact MMA Legislative Director John Robertson at 617-426-7272 at any time.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO