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Paige’s Story

Paige, a bright third grade student on the autism spectrum, sat at home for nearly two months waiting for a school placement that would meet her needs. 

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04.03.2020 | Advocates for Children of New York wrote to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos indicating our strong opposition to any waivers to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. While the current public health emergency poses immense and unprecedented challenges for state and local education agencies, this is not a justification for abandoning our national commitment to provide all children with an appropriate education. It is essential to protect the civil rights of students with disabilities and keep these laws intact. Read the full letter [PDF]

03.20.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children joined 11 other organizations in calling on Chancellor Carranza to ensure that students who are homeless have access to the Regional Enrichment Centers when they open next week. While we do not question the decision to close schools in light of the current public health emergency, we are deeply concerned about the disproportionate impact long-term closures are likely to have on the more than 100,000 City students who are homeless. Read the letter [PDF]

03.09.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children joined 18 organizations committed to school stability and educational success for students in foster care in a joint statement in response to an ACS draft policy. The letter urges the City to guarantee busing or other comparable transportation for students in foster care who need it to remain in their schools to promote school stability for children in foster care. Read the letter [PDF]

02.16.2020 | City & State magazine recognized Kim Sweet, AFC's Executive Director, as one of the 100 most powerful education leaders in New York. Kim has made a career out of bringing parents and policymakers together to make New York City a safer, more nurturing place for students with disabilities. She spearheaded special education advocacy work at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and launched the ARISE Coalition to “compel systemic reform to benefit students with disabilities” after joining Advocates for Children of New York in 2007. She’s also sounded the alarm on homeless students and chronic absenteeism. Learn more about Kim Sweet.

02.11.2020 | Today, AFC is testifying at the New York State Joint Legislative Hearing on the 2020-2021 Elementary and Secondary Education Budget proposal, urging legislators to fully fund Foundation Aid; increase investments in targeted areas such as preschool special education programs, support for Multilingual Learners, and positive approaches to discipline; and reject the harmful special education waiver proposal. Read our testimony [PDF]

first page of report

01.30.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new report, Waiting for a Seat: The Shortage of Preschool Special Education Class Seats in New York City, showing a projected shortfall of between 1,028 and 1,932 preschool special education class seats for three- and four-year-old children with disabilities in New York City this spring.  This number does not include the projected need for hundreds of additional bilingual preschool special education class seats, which are calculated separately.

While many preschoolers with disabilities receive services in general education pre-K classes, children with more significant needs have a legal right to a seat in a preschool special education class with a certified special education teacher and a smaller student-to-staff ratio.  However, after years of under-investment by the State in preschool special education programs, New York is falling far short of providing all children with the classes they need.  In fact, 22 of the City’s 32 school districts have a shortage of preschool special education classes for the spring.  The need is particularly acute in the Bronx, with a projected need of at least 450 and up to as many as 798 seats in monolingual English classes, as well as additional seats in bilingual Spanish classes.

“We have heard from parents desperate for their preschoolers to get the help they need to learn to talk and walk, but who have been sitting at home for months waiting for a seat in a class,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of AFC.  “Unless government leaders take immediate action, hundreds of children with autism and other disabilities will miss out on their mandated services this spring in violation of their civil rights, and we will squander this opportunity to provide support at the point in a child’s development when it is likely to be most effective.”

Over the past two years, the DOE has opened more than 1,000 additional preschool special class seats in an effort to address the shortage.  However, community-based organizations (CBOs), which run the majority of preschool special education classes, are struggling to keep their doors open and run high-quality programs as a result of the insufficient payment rate set by the State.  In particular, the rate makes it difficult to recruit and retain certified teachers who could earn far higher salaries at public schools and other early childhood education programs.

Prior to the 2015-2016 school year, the State did not provide any increase in reimbursement rates for preschool special classes for six years, keeping the rate stagnant with no cost of living adjustments.  Since that time, the State has approved only a two percent increase each year —far less than the rate increase recommended by the New York State Education Department, New York State Assembly, New York State Senate, advocates, and providers to address the shortage of programs and help ensure there is a seat for every child who needs one.  In recent years, more than 60 preschool special education programs have closed around the State—many of them citing inadequate rates.

The budget proposal released this month by Governor Cuomo does not include any initiatives to help address this crisis.

"By the time Aiden got a seat, the teachers and therapists had to do double the work just to get him back up to speed,” said Janira Batista, a parent whose child had to wait eight months for a seat in a preschool special education class.  “Now that Aiden has spent time in his class, he interacts more with other children, he follows directions better, and he speaks in full sentences.  But no child should have to wait so long to get the help they need.”

“Every day that young children with disabilities sit on a waitlist instead of in class is a missed opportunity to intervene and prepare them for kindergarten,” said Randi Levine, AFC’s Policy Director.  “Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have been leaders in expanding early childhood education, and they must extend this commitment to preschoolers with disabilities this year.”

The report recommends that the State and the City take the following steps:

  1. New York State must increase the payment rate for preschool special classes by ten percent this year to help provide programs with the resources they need to recruit and retain teachers and run high-quality programs.  A rate increase is necessary to make up for under-investment in prior years and to prevent more CBOs from closing their preschool special classes and encourage them to open new classes to meet the outstanding need.

  2. New York City must ensure there is a preschool special class seat available for every child who needs one by opening new DOE classes or facilitating the opening of new classes at CBOs.  While the State needs to increase the payment rate for these classes, the City still has a legal obligation to provide a preschool special class seat for every child who needs one.  As such, the City must take steps to support the CBOs that the DOE is relying upon to provide preschool special classes including by extending the recently announced salary raises for early childhood education teachers to preschool special class teachers at CBOs.


View the press release
[PDF]
Read the report [PDF]

01.16.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the New York State Education Department (NYSED)’s release of high school graduation rates for the 2015 cohort: 

While we are pleased that graduation rates continue to trend in the right direction, the data released today illustrate troubling and persistent opportunity gaps across New York State. The drop-out rate for English Language Learners (ELLs) is more than four times the Statewide average: 27% of New York State’s ELLs—as well as more than one in four ELLs in New York City—leave high school without earning a diploma, compared to 6% of students overall. The Statewide drop-out rates for students experiencing homelessness (17%) and students in foster care (18%) are similarly disconcerting, while four-year graduation rates for students with disabilities trail those of their general education peers by more than 25 percentage points Statewide and by a full 30 percentage points in New York City. 

As the State reexamines graduation requirements over the next two years, it will be critical that the Board of Regents and NYSED keep these opportunity gaps a central focus. The increase in the number of students graduating via alternative pathways to a diploma—an increase largely attributable to greater use of the Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Credential and the Language Other than English (LOTE) pathway—suggests there is a hunger for multiple, accessible pathways that allow students to demonstrate their skills, knowledge, and readiness for life after high school without being forced to pass multiple high-stakes exit exams.

View the press release as a PDF

01.14.2020 | AFC testified before the City Council Committee on Youth Services about access to after-school programming for students with disabilities, students in temporary housing and students in foster care and legislation related to universal after-school programming. 

Read AFC's testimony [PDF]

Early Inequities report cover12.05.2019 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York published a new report in partnership with Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York (CCC) entitled Early Inequities: How Underfunding Early Intervention Leaves Low-Income Children of Color Behind [PDF], which shows that State disinvestment in New York’s Early Intervention program has caused major racial and socio-economic disparities in access to services.

The analysis is based on data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene obtained through a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. The data track children’s progress through the Early Intervention program—from referral, to evaluation, to eligibility determination, to service receipt—disaggregated by race and neighborhood from 2016-2018. As this report demonstrates, the data show that children under the age of three with developmental delays or disabilities are less likely to receive critical services that could help them reach their full potential if they live in low-income neighborhoods of color.

In 2018, one out of every four children found eligible for Early Intervention services in New York State had to wait longer than the 30-day legal deadline for services, losing valuable opportunities to address developmental delays at a time when their brains are rapidly developing. Access to Early Intervention evaluations and services also varies widely across communities in New York City. In the Bronx, for instance, only 61% of children found eligible for services received them by the 30-day legal deadline—less than in any other borough. Overall, children in low-income communities of color are the least likely to receive the Early Intervention evaluations for which they are referred and the Early Intervention services for which they are found eligible. For example, the neighborhoods where children referred for Early Intervention evaluations due to concerns with their development were least likely to receive evaluations were Hunts Point-Mott Haven, Crotona-Tremont, Central Harlem-Morningside Heights, High Bridge-Morisania, and East Harlem.

The report makes a number of recommendations to New York City and New York State in order to increase access to Early Intervention services.

In order to increase children’s access to services, the report recommends that New York State should:

  1. Increase rates for Early Intervention evaluators, service providers and service coordinators by 10% to help address provider shortages.
  2. Fund a cost-study to assess and recommend changes to the methodology used to determine payment for evaluations, service provision, and service coordination.
  3. Adopt policies to ensure that commercial health insurance companies pay their fair share to help cover the cost of services.
  4. Conduct a statewide analysis of disparities in access to evaluations and services and develop a plan to address such disparities.

The report recommends that New York City should:

  1. Enact Intro. 1406-2019, requiring the city to issue annual public reports on the provision of evaluations and services so the public can hold the city and state accountable.
  2. Analyze the disparities and develop a plan to address them, including plans to recruit evaluators and providers for underserved neighborhoods, train service coordinators and providers in culturally responsive practices, and follow up with families whose children have not received evaluations or services.

View the press release [PDF
Read the report [PDF]

10.28.2019 | Today, the New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students (NYS-TEACHS), a project of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), posted new data showing that the number of students in New York City identified as homeless during the 2018-2019 school year remained stubbornly high, topping 100,000 for the fourth consecutive year.

The data, which come from the New York State Education Department, show that in the 2018-2019 school year, New York City district and charter schools identified 114,085, or one in ten, students as homeless.  More than 34,000 students were living in New York City’s shelters, and more than twice that number (73,750) were living ‘doubled-up’ in temporary housing situations with relatives, friends, or others.

The number of NYC students identified as homeless has steadily increased by more than 70% over the last decade, despite this year’s scant decrease of half a percentage point from the 2017-2018 school year.  Overall, New York State schools identified 148,554 students as homeless during the 2018-2019 school year.

“This problem is immense.  The number of New York City students who experienced homelessness last year—85% of whom are Black or Hispanic—could fill the Barclays Center six times,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. "The City won’t be able to break the cycle of homelessness until we address the dismal educational outcomes for students who are homeless.”

For these students, homelessness and educational outcomes are closely tied; fewer than a third of New York City students who are homeless are reading proficiently, rates that are 20 percentage points lower than their permanently housed peers.  Only 57 percent of all NYC students who are homeless graduate from high school. And, for NYC students living in shelters, the outcomes are even more stark—fewer than half graduate from high school.  National research from Chapin Hall’s Voice of Youth Count has shown that the lack of a high school diploma is the single greatest risk factor for homelessness among young adults, putting youth without a diploma at 4.5 times the risk of experiencing homelessness as adults compared to their peers who completed high school. 

Over the past few years, the City has taken some positive steps to directly support students who are homeless, including appointing new leaders to support this population, placing 100 “Bridging the Gap” social workers and more than 100 community coordinators in schools with high numbers of students who are homeless, offering yellow bus service to kindergarten through sixth grade students living in shelter, increasing pre-K enrollment among children living in shelter, and providing after-school reading programs at certain shelters.  

Still, nearly half of families entering shelter are placed in a different borough from where their youngest child attends school, and nearly two thirds of students living in shelter are chronically absent, helping to explain the poor educational outcomes.  

“We are heartened by the supports the City has added for students who are homeless, but now the harder work begins,” Sweet said. “With new leadership and school staff in place, the City must begin turning around educational outcomes for students who are homeless, starting with making sure students get to school every day.”

Download the complete data
View news release as a PDF