Special education costs a perennial challenge for school districts

Victoria Boccia of Hancock was born with a rare genetic mutation, Rett syndrome, and is a fifth-grader at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School. Her mother, Rosemarie Boccia-Young (left), and school aide Joyce Young help situate Victoria on the lift.

ELLSWORTH — Special education is often the second largest line item in school budgets and the one for which it is the toughest to plan.

Families relocate. A new student is diagnosed with special needs. A longtime student is suddenly experiencing difficulty in school.

In cases where a child needs a residential placement the cost can easily climb to $100,000 a year, school officials said.

Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) has 2,500 students in 12 communities. Of that number, about 337 students from kindergarten through 12th grade are in special education.

RSU 24 has a $36.1-million budget and $5.3 million is earmarked for special education. The federal government contributes an additional $725,000, said RSU 24 Business Manager David Bridgham.

The total covers specialized instruction and related services for children in special education.

Public Law 94-142, which was passed by Congress in 1975 and is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, guarantees that every child with a disability receives a “free appropriate public education” and in the “least restrictive setting,” which means in school rather in a day or residential program if possible.

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Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]
Jacqueline Weaver

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