May 9, 2019, MassLive.com: Massachusetts schools serving four times as many students with autism as it did 15 years ago https://www.masslive.com/politics/2019/05/massachusetts-schools-serving-four-times-as-many-students-with-autism-as-it-did-15-years-ago.html Massachusetts public schools are serving nearly twice as many students listed as having complex special needs and more than four times as many students on the autism spectrum as it did 15 years ago, according to state education data. Schools across the state are feeling the strains of increasing special education costs and urging lawmakers to address funding gaps, but one factor that advocates say is key is recognizing why special education costs have increased. The Massachusetts Association of Approved Private Schools argue that the overall number of students with disabilities hasn’t increased much, but the number of students with severe needs has. “The state’s new data documents how significantly the number of children with complex, challenging disabilities requiring the most intensive and personalized special education has been growing — in particular, these children’s specialized needs,” said Elizabeth Becker, executive director of MAAPS…. Special education costs was one of four major areas that the Foundation Budget Review Commission said in its 2015 report that the state’s school funding formula not properly accounted for, resulting in the state underfunding schools by $1 billion to $2 billion. ... “When these superintendents and CFOs talk about how they’ve coped with that and the discussions about the numbers of teachers that have been cut, that has been as a result largely of the need to accommodate for these costs that have been growing at a much larger rate than what was factored in with the foundation formula,” Tripp Jones, who has worked with leaders from Gateway Cities on education funding. Becker and James Major, former executive director of MAAPS, shared the association’s analysis of how the special education population has changed over the past 15 years. In 2004, Massachusetts identified 62,660 students as having complex or challenging special education needs. The number has nearly doubled to 118,867 in 2019. That’s the majority of the state’s entire special education student population of nearly 174,000. There are multiple reasons for the increase, educators say. One reason is that some children who may have autism were not properly diagnosed at the time. Major, who until recently was executive director of MAAPS, attributes the increases to medical advancements keeping more infants born prematurely alive…. The largest increase came from students with autism. In 2004, Massachusetts counted 5,383 students with autism. In 2019, that number increased to 22,845…. South Hadley Superintendent Nicholas Young said his district has a $950 deficit, which he attributes to rising special education costs. “The town can’t keep up with the special education costs. We’ve been cutting positions through attrition,” he said. “This year, our costs are so expensive that we’re making actual reductions.” Young estimates the district will eliminate five to six positions and reduce hours for between 20 and 30 more positions. He said his administrations will be furloughed for the month of July.