Mayor Offers Parents Easier Access to Special Education Funding


I was heartened to read this article in the NY Times about NYC’s mayor making it easier for families to collect reimbursement when their children need to go to private school due to learning or developmental delays. When my daughter, Schuyler, was in middle school, we needed a special school for several years due to learning disabilities she had. It took us years and much effort to get the city to pay us back for the programs we had to put her in so that she could get the education she needed. I’m happy to see that other NYC parents won’t have to go through the same thing in years to come. CLICK HERE to read the article at the NY Times website.

De Blasio Offers Easier Access to City Money for Special Education
By AL BAKER JUNE 24, 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a series of changes on Tuesday to make it easier for special-needs students in New York to receive private schooling at public expense, a practice that has led to frequent litigation as the city has tried to keep such spending under control.

His plans, announced at a news conference at City Hall, forestalled a bill in Albany that would have forced the city to make changes to the process. The bill, passed by the State Senate, was halted in the State Assembly last week after Mr. de Blasio promised to make the changes on his own.

At the news conference, the mayor revealed how he would streamline the process for thousands of parents each year who ask the city to pay for private schooling because they believe that public schools do not meet the needs of their children, a right established by court rulings.

If the city proposes a public school placement and the parent decides to move the child to a private school that serves special-needs children, the mayor said, the city will seek to resolve the case within 15 days “where settlement is appropriate,” a change that could speed up the often monthslong process of litigating the case.

Mr. de Blasio emphasized that the city would “reserve the right” to deny a claim if the city felt it did not make sense.

“But that will be the exception, not the norm,” said Mr. de Blasio, flanked by Carmen Fariña, the schools chancellor, and Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the Assembly. “We believe in a parent-friendly, family-friendly approach, that we’re going to be able to come to resolution quickly in the vast majority of cases and help parents get what they need.”

The city will require parents receiving tuition payments to fill out paperwork every three years, rather than every year.

In cases where a family has won a claim, but the city is appealing, the city will pay the tuition while the appeal is pending. And the city will stop making parents reapply for tuition payments every year as long as the student’s specialized education plan remains the same.

“This is a good initial step towards reducing the unnecessary frustration that parents of students with special needs face as they struggle to find an appropriate education for their children,” Kim Sweet, the executive director of Advocates for Children of New York, said in a statement. “Now we have to make sure they follow through.”

Mr. de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, had adopted a more adversarial posture toward such cases after a consultant said the city could save money by challenging requests more often.

The Education Department spends about $45,000 per year to educate each full-time special education student inside the public school system, according to a de Blasio administration official. By contrast, the average cost to educate a student in a private school is around $65,000, the official said. The city is projected to spend more than $200 million on such cases this year, up from $144 million in 2009.

“This is going to open the floodgates for parents who use this mechanism to get their fancy private schools paid for on the public dime,” said Elizabeth Lynam, the vice president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a budget watchdog group. “Instead of lowering the barrier to private school reimbursement, the department should do a better job of developing more appropriate public school services.”

Pressure was mounting in the state capital for the changes, particularly from a vocal body of Orthodox Jewish parents seeking to place their special-needs students in religious schools. The bill that nearly passed this month would have made it easier for all New York City parents seeking private school tuition, not just religious ones.

For one parent, Donna Lewis, 60, her battle has been emotionally and financially taxing. Each year, since her daughter Nabila received a diagnosis of an intellectual disability in the eighth grade, the city agreed to pay her tuition. But last year, just as Nabila, now 20, was switching into a post-high school program, the city took her case to a court hearing, forcing Ms. Lewis to fight for her daughter — and lose. She now owes $50,000 in tuition.

The battle itself was nasty, said Ms. Lewis, of East New York, Brooklyn, and had “an air of condescension, like maybe my daughter doesn’t deserve this.”

Now, she said, she hopes the de Blasio administration’s new strategy will help.

“I don’t want to be in a collection agency all my life,” she said.

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