State funding for special education providers serving kids with special needs was held flat for many years.
For 6 years in 2009-10 through 2014-15, funding for preschool special education providers did not increase and for four years for school age providers from 2009-10 through 2012-13.
Since then, funding for special education providers did increase by $300 million, however with public schools now set to see a record amount of money flowing their way, special education advocates worry that these special education schools might not see the same level of funding.
Lainie and Scott Gutterman, parents of two special needs children say these schools have been a lifeline and these teachers have continued to work even throughout the pandemic.
“They gave him a voice,” Lainie said. “He used to come home from school, get off the bus, I asked him how his day was and he couldn't answer. And now I get a full rundown how that day was and he talks to me in complete sentences. I've almost forgotten that he is on the spectrum.”
The funding formula for special education providers is typically decided outside of the state budget, according to officials.
And funding levels are usually set by the Education Department, subject to the Division of Budget’s approval.
“These levels have not yet been set for the 2021-22 school year and any assessment of what those rates will be is premature. Still, the FY 2022 Enacted Budget mitigated potential revenue losses for these providers that would have resulted from pandemic-related 2020-21 school year enrollment declines,” a spokesperson for the Division of Budget in a statement said.
Public schools will be receiving a 7% Foundation Aid increase and the highest level of state aid ever in the recently passed FY 2022 Enacted Budget.
Brad Gerstman, a disability rights attorney, said special education schools should be funded equally.
“Whatever these local school districts are getting, those same localities that teach special needs children should get an equal amount of money,” Gerstman said.
Ken Cerini, an accounting attorney with a focus on special education, said funding models for 4410 and 853 schools is unnecessarily convoluted and it has been difficult to retain teachers under this plan.
“You’ve got children who need consistency, children who develop bonds and relationships, children who you need to know how to interact with them effectively because they have behavioral issues and things,” Cerini said. “And you're changing on a regular basis the staff that is working with them, because you can't keep the staff because you can't afford to pay.”
For the Guttermans, they say they can’t imagine their lives without these schools.
“Children with disabilities deserve the same level of investment in their education as they're more typical peers and that is not happening in New York state,” Scott Gutterman said. “And we are so disappointed and so outraged by this fact.”
“So many education institutions here in Manhattan didn't even see a future in our son,” Lainie Gutterman said. “Fortunately we did find a school that saw his potential and not only I think has he lived up to his potential I think he's surpassed it.”
There has been no clarification yet on when those funding levels will be set.