Boston Schools Ask for an Extra $6 Million

Citing the rise in autism cases, schools say they need more money.

It takes a lot more than school supplies to educate a child with special needs. Photo via Shutterstock.

It takes a lot more than school supplies to educate a child with special needs. Photo via Shutterstock.

We keep reading new studies about how more and more children are being diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and depression, among other conditions. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the average classroom of 20 children, four of them have a mental disorder. The Globe reported on the these recent findings (and please excuse that horrific choice of a photo. Seriously, what happened there?) and listed the numbers for children with “mental disorders.” Here are the top five:

ADHD: 6.8 percent, or 1 in 14.

Behavioral or conduct problem: 3.5 percent, or 1 in 28.

Anxiety: 3 percent, or 1 in 33.

Depression: 2.1 percent, or 1 in 50.

Autism spectrum disorders: 1.1 percent, or 1 in 100.

Your child knows these children. Your child may be one of them.”

These numbers are alarming. But equally alarming is thinking about how we’re going to pay for all of this. According to the Globe, the School Department requested $6 million in supplemental funding due to the rising costs associated with increased cases of children with autism and other “special needs.” For example, last year, only 207 children across all grade levels were working with behavior specialists. This year that number rose dramatically to 489. The money would be used to cover existing costs so that the School Department can end the year with a balanced budget.

John ­McDonough, the School Department’s chief financial officer tells the Globe:

“Our obligation is to provide these services,” he says. “That is not something we have any discretion over whatsoever. . . . The costs associated with them need to be covered.”

The funding is being used primarily to support public school programs for preschoolers diagnosed with disabilities, particularly on the autism spectrum, a segment of the student population that has seen a steep increase in special education enrollment.

Educating special needs students is expensive and requires specialists that sometimes have to come from outside agencies and are not employed directly by Boston’s schools. This money is needed and it is promising that Boston’s public schools are trying to start with children in preschool. Hopefully the money they need will be approved. We all know that classrooms need books and updates on a much broader scale, but hopefully this is a step in the right direction in the meantime.