April 18, 2019, NH Public Radio: With Rising Budget Woes, Manchester Struggles To Meet Special Ed Needs https://www.nhpr.org/post/rising-budget-woes-manchester-struggles-meet-special-ed-needs#stream/0 For schools across New Hampshire, special education is a growing need and a growing cost. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Manchester, the state’s largest district, where special ed expenditures have nearly tripled in the last twenty years. A Family's Fight for Special Ed… This is the process thousands of families across New Hampshire go through - frequent meetings, calls, evaluations - just to get an IEP. But when that's over, it creates a big new challenge: How the district will pay for those services. A 'Quasi-Funded' Mandate: The Struggle Over How to Fund IEPs Many Manchester parents say getting an IEP is so difficult because the school district doesn’t want to pay for it. The district declined an interview with NHPR, but school board member Ross Terrio came to the district’s defense. He says the root problem of all this is a “quasi-funded” mandate. Federal civil rights laws require schools to provide services to IEP students in regular classrooms, with their general education peers, whenever possible, and to give them tools there to succeed. This downshifting of costs to districts doesn’t change the legal reality: IEP students have the right to special education services. Terrio says he’s grateful for this; it gave his daughter, who has Down Syndrome, the attention in school she deserved. But when it comes to the costs to schools, “you’re kind of in a bind,” he says. Manchester’s bind is made worse by its low property values and by the city’s tax cap, which makes raising money locally even harder. The end result is tight school budgets, low wages for paraprofessionals, and chronically unfilled positions for dozens of staff. Keeping Up With Growing Needs During lunch at the city's McLaughlin Middle School, I met up with Maxine Mosley. She’s a guidance counselor there and works with a lot of students with IEPs…. She says not having enough paraprofessionals in a classroom is wreaking havoc. Take a kid with emotional behavioral disabilities, who bolts out of the classroom when he gets upset. Teachers call these kids “runners.”… Mosley has done this work for 40 years. And in the last decade she’s noticed more runners and more kids with extreme, complex needs that require expensive services. “What we are seeing for the needs of children has changed dramatically," she says. "A lot more aggression; a lot more poverty; a lot more trauma. And we know that trauma can change how the brain functions.” This is a trend other districts are noting too. And where there’s trauma at home - addiction, violence, abuse - it’s hard to figure out the root cause of a student’s troubles in school. "It’s the chicken and the egg - are we talking about special ed or are we talking about trauma, are we talking about both?” Mosley says….