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Pennacchio: NJ’s Autism Rates Prove We Need a Better Way to Fund Special Education

In light of the release of a new CDC report showing that the rate of 4-year-old children diagnosed with autism in New Jersey has spiked by 43 percent, Senator Pennacchio is again calling on Legislative Leaders to embrace the Senate Republican school funding reform plan, “Every Child Counts,” which features a better way to fund special education costs Statewide.

“The fact that more and more kids are being diagnosed with autism in New Jersey is a clear indicator that we have to come up with a better way to fund special education in this state,” Pennacchio said. “Right now, kids with autism or other challenges receive a varying degree of financial support, based on their zip code. That’s wrong. Every child counts. We need a school funding plan that will ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed, regardless of where they live.”

In March, Senator Pennacchio and his Senate Republican colleagues stood shoulder to shoulder with school officials and education advocates to announce the ‘Every Child Counts’ school funding reform plan, a legislative bill package that would strengthen State support for special education, lower the burden on property taxpayers, and finally bring equity to the way New Jersey funds public education.

The cost of funding extraordinary special education heavily impacts local budgets and property tax bills – and under current law, most of that cost is paid by local taxpayers.

Although the state is supposed to reimburse local school districts for these costs, most only get back a fraction of what they deserve. As a result, many districts shy away from developing better programs or improving services for students with special needs, for fear of the impact it may have on local budgets.

Among the solutions, the Senate Republican “Every Child Counts” school funding plan would address this issue by having the state assume the full cost of funding extraordinary special education and eliminating statewide averages as a tool for calculating how much funding districts receive for special education. This would ensure that every child facing these challenges receives the same chance to get the support and high quality education they deserve, regardless of where in New Jersey they live.

“Although we have very good healthcare facilities and early intervention programs in New Jersey, our schools need a better way to fund services for these students once they reach the classroom. For some severe cases, special educations costs can top $100,000 a year per student,” Senator Pennacchio added. “Senate President Sweeney has been one of New Jersey’s most vocal advocates for children with disabilities. I have had productive conversations with him regarding funding for our most vulnerable children. I share his passion for supporting special education and look forward to working together to come to a clear equitable solution for these students. We cannot ignore the rise in autism rates and the increased need these diagnoses will generate for our schools, and in turn, our property taxpayers.”


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