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Don't turn your back on children with disabilities

While the media has highlighted budget cuts for public schools, we are also concerned about a major proposed cut in state support for schools that serve children with disabilities ("Md. schools deserve better," Feb. 12).

Maryland is blessed to have almost 100 nonpublic programs serving children with special needs, helping our public school system meet its obligation to provide appropriate educational options to all children. Students are referred to our schools 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.

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Students in our schools — more than 3,000 statewide — have a range of disabilities that severely impede their academic progress and our schools provide academic instruction and customized support services. For parents who work around the clock to care for their children with disabilities, our schools are a godsend, providing a safe, nurturing, therapeutic and effective program.

The cost of educating our special-needs students is generally shared by the state and local school systems. Unfortunately, a proposed state funding cut threatens our schools' ability to adequately serve students with disabilities. The current 2016 budget pending in Annapolis proposes a roll back to 2014 tuition levels.

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Such a cut would come after years in which state funding has failed to keep up with the cost of our operations. This cut will force our schools to constantly try to do more with less — a challenge in any field but particularly difficult when working with young people with disabilities.

The budget must be balanced, but it should reflect the state's values. I feel confident that Marylanders strongly support the goal of providing an appropriate education for special-needs children. As they make budget decisions, we urge state lawmakers not to leave our most vulnerable citizens out of the equation.

Patricia Ritter, Rockville

The writer is executive director of the Treatment and Learning Centers (TLC) in Rockville and chair of the board of the Maryland Association of Nonpublic Special Education Facilities.

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