Search

NYC spends $325M/yr on private schools for SPED students

Jan 7, 2019, Chalkbeat: New York City now spends $325 million a year to send students with disabilities to private schools https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2019/01/07/private-school-tuition-reimbursement/ Shortly after Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014, he made it easier for students with disabilities to attend private schools with the city picking up the tab. That policy change is quietly having an enormous impact: The cost of sending students with disabilities to private schools has doubled since de Blasio was sworn in and has reached $325 million per year, dwarfing the price tag of some of the mayor’s highest-profile education initiatives…. The sharp increase is notable because it suggests the city is increasingly acknowledging that it can’t provide an adequate education to students with disabilities within traditional public schools. And the trend is at odds with schools Chancellor Richard Carranza’s desire to send fewer students with disabilities to schools outside the system. “It’s telling that the city doesn’t have the programming needed to educate a lot of kids,” said Lori Podvesker, a policy manager at INCLUDEnyc, a support agency for young people with disabilities. Officials said 4,431 students with disabilities attended private schools paid for by the education department in fiscal year 2017, according to the most recent data obtained by Chalkbeat, a third more than in 2014. Overall, there are roughly 225,000 students with disabilities in city schools…. De Blasio’s decision to make it easier for families to receive private school tuition reimbursement was a direct reversal of his predecessor’s approach. Though federal law allows families to petition for private school funding through a special hearing when the city fails to provide an “appropriate” public education, Mayor Michael Bloomberg hired extra lawyers to fight parents’ private school reimbursement requests as a way of avoiding unnecessary placements and saving money that could be reinvested in the system as a whole…. Under the new policy, the mayor promised the city would not fight cases that it had settled in a previous year or that parents had won in a legal fight — as long as the child’s recommended placement and learning plan stayed the same. Since 2014, the number of reimbursement cases that the city settled without going to a hearing has jumped 54 percent. … At a town hall meeting in September, Carranza acknowledged that the city doesn’t offer the full range of programs that are listed on student’s learning plans but argued it would be more cost effective for the city to create programs on its own. “It eliminates the need for people to find services outside of our system,” he said at a town hall meeting in September. “That’s where we want to go.” (Education department officials did not respond to a question about whether Carranza is considering any changes to the tuition reimbursement policy.) Among special education advocates, there is little consensus on whether paying for students with disabilities to attend private schools is good for the system or is the best investment of limited education funding. … The city has made some progress expanding programming for students with disabilities, including bilingual offerings and programs for students with autism, according to an education department spokesperson. Only about 2 percent of all students with disabilities have private school tuition reimbursed, the spokesperson added. … She decided to place her son, Jeremy, into a private school after he continued to struggle identifying letters and numbers in the second grade. “I think they gave up on his ever being able to read,” she said of his public Brooklyn elementary school. Now a 7th grader, Jeremy attends the Aaron School, which costs $69,125 per year, according to its website. Swirin-Yao said the school has been better-equipped to handle his learning delays, dyslexia, and attention issues. The difference is “night and day,” she said, adding that Jeremy is close to reading at grade level. …