Every regional school board in Nova Scotia needs at least one private special education school, where tuition would be subsidized by the provincial government, says a new report commissioned by the Atlantic Institute For Market Studies.
Many children with learning disabilities are not receiving the help they need in the public school system and are paying the price in adulthood, says the study by Paul Bennett, director of Schoolhouse Consulting in Halifax.
“Ignoring or neglecting children and teens with learning disabilities can and does have significant longer-term social costs,” says the report to be released this morning.
“The current reality is that hundreds of students in Nova Scotia’s cities, towns and villages merely languish on the margins of the system, frequently missing classes and counting the days until they can quit school.”
Bennett recommends the province expand its existing program that subsidizes tuition for special needs students enrolled in day programs at private educational facilities. That program, available since 2004, provides tuition subsidies for students whose needs can’t be met in special education programs in schools. The subsidy is currently limited to four years.
Students in most parts of Nova Scotia have no access to this option as there are only four private, dedicated special education schools: Bridgeway Academy and Churchill Academy, both in Dartmouth; Landmark East in Wolfville and Bridgeway Academy’s satellite school in Truro.
“The Education Department (should) encourage the establishment of, within five years, at least one special education private school modelled after Bridgeway Academy in each of the eight provincial school board districts, including the Acadian provincial school board,” the report recommends
Bennett said about 10 per cent of the 2,200 students in the province with serious learning challenges who could benefit from the tuition support program are able to access it.
Privately operated schools in some areas of the province could be set up with just one classroom with a small group of students, he said in an interview.
Bennett has also recommended abolishing red tape that is delaying some students with special needs in Nova Scotia from accessing the tuition support program for two or more years.
Officials with Nova Scotia’s Education Department have not yet reviewed the report and are unable to comment, said spokesman Gary Andrea.
David Sampson, who heads the Equal Education Association, says teachers in the public system are trying their best but just don’t have enough resources to give special needs children the attention they require.
He said expanding the tuition support program would save the government money in the long run as the health and social costs of children failing and quitting school is enormous.
Sampson said he had to fight to get tuition support for his daughter, who struggled in public school. She is now flourishing at Bridgeway Academy, he said.
“These are children who can’t get an education in the public school system that is anywhere near what they can do (in the private education schools).”
Sampson said tuition support is basically a transfer of the funding the child would get in the public school to the designated special education school.
The government subsidy pays roughly $7,200 of the $12,000 annual tuition at Bridgeway, he said.