Maryland is blessed to have almost 100 private programs serving children with special needs. Such programs support our public school system and help meet its obligation to provide appropriate educational options to all children.
Students are referred to these programs when their local public schools can’t meet their needs, often after the students and their families have gone through a series of challenging circumstances.
These students — more than 3,000 statewide — have a range of disabilities that impede their academic progress. Some have profound physical and developmental issues; others face behavioral or emotional challenges. As chair of the board of the Maryland Association of Nonpublic Special Education Facilities, I know that these schools provide a full range of support services.
At Treatment and Learning Centers’s Katherine Thomas School in Rockville, we tailor programming for each child. In some cases, we prepare young people to graduate and go to college or work; in others, we work with young people with multiple disabilities to give them the best possible opportunity to lead happy, productive and independent adult lives.
The cost of educating our special-needs students is generally shared by the state and local school systems, and we are proud of this public-private partnership and the role we play. And our schools are major employers, providing more than 2,500 jobs.
Such a cut comes after years of minimal increases, and even those we had to struggle to obtain. Overall, state funding has failed to keep up with the cost of operations for private special-education schools. At the same time, funding for public schools has climbed significantly, reaching its highest level.
We appreciate that Maryland must adjust its budget, but a budget should reflect a state’s priorities and values. Legislators can be confident that graduates of our programs will likely get jobs, pay taxes and become productive citizens. Indeed, a long-term study showed that students from our programs achieve better outcomes after leaving school, on average, than the general population of students with disabilities. Two years after graduation, more than 53 percent of students in the private special-education programs were employed, but only 27 percent of public-school special-education students were.
Given this record, we believe funding private special-education programs meets the requirements for sound state spending that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) outlined in his inaugural address.
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates that all children with special needs receive an appropriate education; in Maryland, our private schools help the public system meet that important obligation.
Over the years, Maryland’s governors and legislators have come to see the crucial work we do every day. We applaud the new governor and legislators who want to maintain and improve Maryland’s highly rated educational system, and we are proud to be a key part of that system.
As state lawmakers make budget decisions, we urge them not to leave out our most vulnerable citizens.
The writer is executive director of the Treatment and Learning Centers’s Katherine Thomas School in Rockville and is chair of the board of the Maryland Association of Nonpublic Special Education Facilities.