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Oversight Hearing, Education Committee on FY25 Preliminary Budget

March 18, 2024
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 the City’s FY2025 Preliminary Budget. My name is Lori Podvesker, and I am the Director of Policy at INCLUDEnyc. For over 40 years, INCLUDEnyc (formerly known as Resources for Children with Special Needs) has helped hundreds of thousands of NYC families navigate the complex special education service and support systems.

We commend New York City Public Schools (NYCPS) for their current efforts to improve special education by creating a more inclusive system for all students and their families. We also commend NYCPS for their willingness to finally address some of the areas where systemic educational and programmatic inequities exist between general education students and the 300,000+ students with disabilities, ages 3-21. However, the City must also address how it continues to fail to meet the needs of far too many students with disabilities, right here and now, despite the provision of additional federal and state funds in the last few years. 

We are very concerned about how the loss of these additional funds will erase any educational, behavioral, social, and/or emotional progress made in recent years. Also, we are equally concerned about how the absence of these funds will negatively contribute to further widening the academic and post-secondary achievement gaps between students with and without Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)

The proposed 2025-29 Capital Plan represents a decreased commitment from the prior plan for the City to improve school accessibility. It calls for a total of $800 million as opposed to the $1.25 billion that parents and advocates have been calling for to make 50% of all schools fully accessible. Therefore, we ask the Council and the members of this committee to press on the City to amend the proposed plan by investing an additional $450 million. So the total amount of funds dedicated for school accessibility projects over the next five years will be $1.25 billion.

In addition, we have serious concerns about how the loss of these federal funds shows up in the proposed FY25 Preliminary Budget by directly threatening equitable access for all eligible students to specialized programs and quality specialized instruction. As a result, we urge the City to restore this funding for Fiscal Year 2025 and beyond. 

The City has used $96 million per year in federal stimulus funding to finally expand preschool special education programs, staff, and services. The investments made were long overdue, while still violating the legal rights of 1,000 children ages 3-5 waiting for a seat in a preschool special education class last school year. This is not okay. 

The COVID-19 relief funds also currently fund literacy instruction initiatives and dyslexia programming. This $7 million will soon expire. But the need to help students with dyslexia and reading difficulties, including screening, intensive reading intervention at certain schools, and new specialized programs for students with dyslexia will not. The City must continue to make these important investments.

Sensory Exploration, Education, and Discovery (SEED) programs also have been funded this way, as well as State contributions now as the federal funds will expire. These programs provide students with intensive sensory needs out-of-classroom, and small-group support from occupational and physical therapists to improve students’ abilities to learn in their classrooms. Consequently, we urge the City to sustain these funds moving forward so all eligible students can have access to these programs.

NYCPS has also used $10 million per year in expiring federal funds to increase the numbers of school psychologists and family workers. School psychologists are critical in their roles for coordinating and leading the special education process for individual students with known or suspected disabilities. This includes conducting and overseeing evaluations for first-time or continuing special education services, contributing to the determination of eligibility for services and supports and disability classification, and the development of IEPs and related services and program recommendations. The City has historically failed at completing evaluations and developing IEPs within the 60-day timeline required by federal law and delays sadly still exist despite the use of those funds.  

Our students can not afford for the City to go backward on decades-long efforts to ensure the needs of young people with disabilities are identified and appropriately met. 

The NYC public school system has long needed to match its actions with its words about the state of special education and the collective inferior educational progress of students with disabilities compared to outcomes for general education students. If the City wants to reimagine special education like they say they do, then they must increase investments in high-quality programs, services, and staff to serve students with disabilities, not lessen them. 

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