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NYC Council Oversight Hearing on Meeting the Needs of All Students with Disabilities

September 21, 2022
Lori Podvesker
In the Media, Testimony

We would like to thank the New York City Council’s Committee on Education for holding this important oversight hearing on how the City is meeting the needs of ALL students with disabilities.  My name is Lori Podvesker, and I am the Director of Policy at INCLUDEnyc. For nearly the last 40 years, INCLUDEnyc (formerly Resources for Children with Special Needs) has helped hundreds of thousands of NYC families navigate the complex special education service and support systems.

According to the February 2022 Mayor’s Management Report and November 2021 Local Law 27 report to the City Council, there are nearly 300,000 students with disabilities ages 3-21 receiving special education services and supports that the City of New York is responsible for providing and overseeing. This includes approximately:

  • 26,000 preschoolers ages 3-5 in which the majority attend nonpublic programs due to the ongoing shortage of preschool special education classes 
  • 270,000 school-age students ages 5-21
  • 26,000 students attending a District 75 program
  • 32,000 English Language Learners representing 19% of school-age students with IEPs
  • 7 out of 10 school-age students are classified with speech and language impairment or learning disabilities
  • 24,000 school-aged students classified with autism
  • 8400+ school-aged students classified with emotional disturbance 
  • 5600 school-aged students classified with intellectual disabilities (formerly known as mental retardation)
  • 20% of IEP evaluations not occuring within the legal timeline of 60 days
  • 52,000+ school-aged students with IEPs who spend the majority of their school days in segregated settings 
  • 24,000 students who did not receive any or all their mandated IEP related services
  • Less than 2 out of 10 special education students in grades 3-8 proficient in Math or English
  • A little more than half of all students with disabilities who take standardized tests graduate in 4 years

We commend the City and Department of Education for using federal stimulus funds to make enhancements specifically targeted for school-age students with suspected or known disabilities, improving literacy instruction throughout the city, identifying struggling readers, including students with dyslexia, and piloting new related specialized programs next school year. 

However, these initiatives are nowhere near enough to address longtime systemic policy and cultural barriers for all students with disabilities and their families, and nor will they impact ALL students with disabilities. 

The last 2.5 years have made it clearer than ever before that the City must do things differently than it has for a long time to appropriately and equitably educate all students with disabilities. Too many students with disabilities did not access special education recovery services last school year as the result of the short amount of time the City had to develop and implement a related plan, shortage of qualified related service providers, and the City’s inability to provide transportation. As a result, these services were significantly underutilized, further leaving behind one of the most underserved and largest groups of students within our system.

It is time for the City to consider radically changing how special education works. All students with disabilities deserve access to quality instruction, an adequate number of qualified teachers, timely evaluations, the delivery of all mandated related services, bilingual programs, services and supports, consistent and reliable transportation to and from school, and integration. 

With school budget cuts, the fading of stimulus funds, and the current inferior accountability structures that measure individual student learning outcomes and the success of individual schools, we urge this Committee and the Council as a whole to immediately set up two additional public-facing fiscal accountability structures that follow how all allocated special education money is spent;  one to track money in community school districts 1-32,  and a separate one for District 75. This is because District 75’s budget is separate and different from the special education money allocated for the provision of services and supports to students with disabilities attending community school districts 1-32 and non-District 75 middle and high schools.

In addition, we recommend that the Department of Education and City:

  • Increase the number of preschool classes
  • Strengthen systemwide capacity to conduct quality special education evaluations for students from preschool and K-12th grades
  • Use school-based data to determine student and staffing needs and then align and allocate funds based on that data to hire additional staff, including qualified bilingual evaluators where needed
  • Improve access to quality transition services for students with disabilities ages 14 and above
  • Require every school building where a District 75 program is collocated to have a visible sign with the name of corresponding District 75 school organization
  • Create a citywide integration initiative for District 75 
  • Commission a study on how the DOE utilizes the special education continuum to determine how and where the city provides special education services, analyze the relationship of Least Restrictive Environment and disability classifications, and the extent to which all students with disabilities move to less restrictive settings based on meeting individual IEP goals 

Thank you for taking the time today to consider this important matter. We look forward to working together and partnering with you to improve equity and access for all young people with disabilities in New York City.

Lori Podvesker
Director of Disability and Education Policy