2012 State House Priorities: Special Ed, Health Care, Budget

By Sarah Birnbaum

Jan. 5, 2012

BOSTON — Massachusetts lawmakers returned to Boston on Jan. 4 for the second half of the two-year legislative session. Health care reform, an overhaul of special education agencies and the budget are expected to dominate.

Senate President Therese Murray says one of the first items on the Senate’s to-do list is a crackdown on the state’s special education collaboratives. Lawmakers plan to take up a bill on Jan. 10 to increase state oversight of the agencies.

A state audit over the summer found patterns of lavish spending, excessive salaries and conflicts of interest at three special education collaboratives. Those are the agencies that provide educational tools and services for special needs students in 32 school districts across the state.

“When we first heard about the problems in the collaboratives, it wasn’t just outrageous that taxpayer money was being misspent, it was the fact that every single city and town tells every one of our members on a weekly basis how much it costs them for [special education], and that it’s too much. And now we realize in just one collaborative alone, $10 million was misused,” Murray says.

Under the bill, the special needs agencies would be required to submit audited financial reports every year to the state Department of Education, parents and school districts.

Murray also expects the Legislature to move forward on a major effort to change the way the state pays for health care — a project she said they've been working on steadily since the beginning of 2011. The bill aims to rein in health care costs by giving doctors and hospitals a yearly budget for the care of their patients.

Other key issues will likely include addressing Massachusetts’ rising electricity costs, the perceived failures of utility companies in recent outages and the state budget.

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