Community Reps Go To Albany To Battle Bloomberg’s Plan On Special-Ed


albany_delegation-smallNew York City Council Members David G. Greenfield and Stephen T. Levin, along with a group of over 50 special education advocates, providers and students spent Tuesday in Albany asking state lawmakers to reject Mayor Bloomberg’s request for changes to the reimbursement of private special education programs in New York City. Last month, Mayor Bloomberg testified that switching the burden of proof in special education hearings from the Department of Education to parents would save New York City $100 million. This “switch” would negatively impact thousands of children in the Jewish community who currently attend private special education programs and receive partial tuition reimbursement from the City of New York.

“There is no way the city is going to save any money in this proposal,” said Councilman Greenfield. “In fact, it will likely cost the city another $100 million. Quite frankly, this proposal has nothing to do with money. This is about the city trying to shift the conversation away from the Department of Education’s inability, and often unwillingness, to provide special needs children with the therapeutic programs and services they are entitled to by law. We traveled to Albany to make sure that our state lawmakers understand that the Mayor’s request to change the burden of proof in reimbursement hearings would leave 4,000 New York City children without any programs that meet their unique educational needs. In the end, parents and children are the ones who suffer.”

The city insists that shifting the burden of proof would save the city $100 million. In fact, the average cost of educating a special needs child in a public setting is $48,000 compared with just $25,000 on average in private placements. What’s more, thousands of children will still be eligible for tuition reimbursements because there is no appropriate public placement available to them.

“Mayor Bloomberg is asking children and families to pay an unreasonably high price for no real cost savings in the city’s budget,” said Councilman Stephen Levin. “These proposed changes would make it difficult for parents to navigate an already complicated system and potentially intimidate families from pursuing what they are entitled to by law. I am hopeful that the state legislators we met with today will ensure that our special needs children are protected from this unnecessary change.”

The Legislative Action Day, which was sponsored by TEACH NYS, brought community leaders from throughout New York together including representatives of several major Jewish organizations including the UJO of Williamsburg, Agudath Israel of America, the Sephardic Community Federation, Ichud, Ptach, Tafkid, YAI, Ohr HaLimud, and many other groups. The advocates met with over 40 elected officials in the Assembly and the Senate. Councilman Greenfield also led a meeting with the Governor’s top education advisers to impress on them the importance of protecting special needs children and families.

“Today we saw the results of what happens when a group of people refuse to stay silent about an issue that could have devastating consequences,” said Jeffrey Leb, Director of TEACH NYS. “Our advocates and parents did an outstanding job making the case on behalf of special needs children to lawmakers.”

The final state budget is due April 1, and Council Members Greenfield and Levin pledged to keep the pressure on Albany to safeguard reimbursements for special needs families.

{Noam Newscenter}