Matching the House supplemental budget, the Massachusetts Senate voted on Thursday, May 3 to include $12.5 million towards the Special Education Circuit Breaker in the supplemental budget.
In Massachusetts, the Special Education Circuit Breaker represents a partnership between schools and the state government, where the two entities work collectively to provide funding and resources for special education students. Once a town or city reaches the $43,000 threshold for educating a student, the state will pay 75% of additional spending. However, this past year has seen a shortfall in Circuit Breaker funding, as the program is currently underfunded by $37 million dollars.
“I have heard different reasons for the reduction of circuit break money this year,” Nancy Gallivan, a member of the Walpole School Committee, said. “The good news is that this year the state has brought in more tax revenue than it expected, so this provided the opportunity for the legislators to provide a supplemental budget and correct this mistake.”
Especially in Walpole, funding for special education marks both a fiscal and community importance.
“All of our special education services are mandated by law, so you can’t pick and choose which ones you want to do. If a student moves in to Walpole and requires services above what we can provide in the district, we are required to fund it,” David Cuzzi, Bird Middle School Social Studies Teacher and Walpole Teachers Association (WTA) President, said.
Additionally, Walpole Public Schools have always strived for an inclusive school environment.
“In Walpole, we pride ourselves on meeting the needs of each student no matter what,” Cuzzi said. “The circuit breaker money allows us to provide these high-quality services for our educationally diverse population.”
Gallivan urged students and staff at the Walpole Public Schools Budget Meeting in January to reach out to state representatives and senators, as well as individuals in other towns, to contact their state representation. For the Walpole High School students present at the budget meeting, advocacy for the Special Education Circuit Breaker became a priority.
“I’ve worked with special needs students who have individualized education programs (IEPs) that really help them, but they could really succeed if Walpole was able to use the money from the circuit breaker to provide the tools these students really need,” senior Ellen Irmiter said.
Another student representative at the January budget meeting, senior Rachel Bagley, also contacted the State House to advocate for supplemental funding.
“It’s not a choice or a privilege to fund fellow students. It’s a right. Although they may have different needs, they deserve the same quality of education that every student gets,” Bagley said.
Cuzzi also utilized his position as WTA president to spread information about the Special Education Circuit Breaker.
“I have a monthly newsletter that goes out to all of the WTA members, and I have given them the information to contact the local Reps and Senators,” Cuzzi said.
With a concrete agreement between the Massachusetts House and Senate on the amount allocated to the Circuit Breaker, the legislation now awaits the governor’s signature. Though $12.5 million represents a step in the right direction, the state still falls short in fully funding the Special Education Circuit Breaker.