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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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Spring 2021 | On March 23, 2021, we testified [PDF] before the City Council Committee on Education on the preliminary budget, outlining our prorities for an ambitious education initiative to direct the largest one-time federal investment in education in our nation’s history. Click on the links below to learn more about each of AFC's advocacy priorities for the Fiscal Year 2022 New York City budget. 

COVID-19 Education Recovery [PDF
Over the past year, the pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to the education of children and youth—and the students hit hardest have been those who were already struggling in school or marginalized on the basis of race, poverty, disability, immigration status, English proficiency, homelessness, or involvement in the child welfare or juvenile or criminal justice systems. New York City needs an ambitious Education Recovery Plan to pave the way to hope and opportunity for this generation of students. Such a plan must invest resources in academic support, mental health support, and outreach and engagement. It must be targeted to assist students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including the provision of specialized instruction and support where needed. With the federal government having approved the largest one-time investment in education in our nation’s history, planning must happen now if we are to make the best use of the resources coming our way and ensure an effective transition back into the classroom for hundreds of thousands of students. This document contains our recommendations for steps the City should take.

Teach Every Student to Read [PDF
One of the most fundamental responsibilities of schools is to teach children how to read, and there is a mountain of scientific research on how to do so effectively. Yet far too many NYC students struggle to become skilled readers—less than half of third through eighth graders, and only 36% of Black and Hispanic students and 16% of students with disabilities in grades 3–8, were reading proficiently in 2019—while far too many schools continue to use ineffective curricula that are not aligned with the science, and far too many teachers have never been trained in evidence-based practice. As the City plans for education recovery, it must invest in a comprehensive effort to revamp the way it provides reading instruction to all students and targeted interventions to students who need extra support, including those in middle and high school.

Mental Health Supports for Students in Police-Free Schools [PDF
The COVID-19 pandemic has created and exacerbated social-emotional challenges for all members of the school community. While the City has committed to addressing student mental health, there is not sufficient additional funding directed towards their needs. The current proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022 contains merely a $35 million increase for Social-Emotional Learning, leaving schools to find a way to provide additional services for students without the funding to pay for them. It is more urgent than ever that the City make students’ mental health and well-being a top priority. The City must re-allocate the $450 million NYPD budget for school policing to support the mental health and social-emotional needs of NYC’s students by funding direct services to support students' social-emotional needs; targeted intensive mental health supports for students; and the expansion and full implementation of school-wide restorative justice practices.

Meet the Need for Preschool Special Education Class Seats [PDF
By early March 2020, hundreds of NYC students were already sitting at home—not because of the pandemic, but because the City did not have enough seats in preschool special education classes. As a result, children with disabilities who had a legal right to a preschool special education class missed a critical opportunity for intervention during the window of time when these services can have the greatest impact. The City must ensure there is a preschool special class seat for every child who requires one, either by opening more DOE-run classes or by ensuring CBOs do so, and should extend salary parity to teachers of CBO preschool special classes so they may continue to support preschoolers with disabilities.

Support Students in Foster Care [PDF
Approximately 6,000 New York City students are in foster care each year. Students in foster care are disproportionately Black and come from NYC’s poorest communities. They are among the most likely to repeat a grade, be chronically absent, or leave high school without a diploma—and were impacted particularly hard by the closure of schools. To support students in foster care, the FY 2022 budget should include $5 million for bus service for students in foster care to increase school stability and $1.5 million to establish a small Department of Education office focused on supporting students in foster care.

03.23.2021 | Today, AFC is testifying before the City Council Committee on Education on the preliminary budget, outlining our priorities for an ambitious education initiative to direct the largest one-time federal investment in education in our nation’s history. Read our testimony

first page of sign-on letter03.09.2021 | Today, more than 100 education and advocacy organizations and over 150 parents, educators, and other individuals from across New York State sent a letter to the New York State Board of Regents and the State Education Department (NYSED), urging them to give students aging out of school this year the opportunity to return to high school for the 2021-22 school year, rather than lose their chance to earn a high school diploma because of COVID-19.

New Yorkers have the right to attend school to work toward a high school diploma until the end of the school year in which they turn 21. Although most students who graduate do so in four years, a small subset of young people — disproportionately students of color, English Language Learners (ELLs), and students with disabilities — need five, six, or even seven years to finish high school. Each year, roughly 2,000-3,000 students across New York State graduate after their sixth year of high school.

Given the massive educational disruptions caused by COVID-19, NYSED and the Board of Regents issued guidance last June strongly encouraging schools to allow 21-year-olds who would otherwise be aging out of school in 2020 to return for the summer and, if necessary, attend high school this year to complete their education. As the pandemic continues, it is critical that the State immediately extend this guidance so that students who turn 21 during this school year can return for the 2021-22 school year to complete coursework or meet special education transition goals.

One young person who benefited from the extra time in school this year is Kenny Abraham, a 21-year-old who graduated in January 2021.  Kenny, an English Language Learner from Haiti, worked multiple jobs throughout high school to help support his mother and two younger siblings, which made it difficult to keep up with his education.  Kenny had fallen further behind due to the stress of the pandemic — at one point working three jobs to help his family. He would have aged out of school without a diploma in June 2020, but the State’s policy allowed him to reenroll and finish his diploma requirements at the Downtown Brooklyn Young Adult Borough Center (YABC).

“When the pandemic started, I was about to turn 21, so I thought my chance for a high school diploma was over,” Kenny Abraham said.  “When I found out I was allowed to stay in high school, I was so excited that I could finish with help from teachers and school staff who knew me. Other students deserve to get the same chance I did.”

The letter also urges NYSED to, once again, extend eligibility to students with disabilities who need more time to work toward their postsecondary transition goals. Shari DiStefano’s daughter Brianna turned 21 in December and will age out of her District 75 high school program in June. Before the pandemic, Brianna was preparing for life after high school by working in the school store, participating in a cooking program, and learning to use a calculator and cash register.  When her school went remote in March 2020, Brianna, who has autism, could no longer participate in these programs.

“Schools are doing their best. But without in-person, hands-on supports, I’ve watched Brianna’s skills regress significantly,” said Ms. DiStefano. “Students like Brianna have already missed out on a critical year of transition supports that simply cannot be provided remotely. We’re just asking for her to have the opportunity to make up those experiences so she can be ready for life after high school.”

“With so many students falling behind this year, the State should extend the age students can stay in school and give young people the last chance they need to earn a high school diploma,” said Ashley Grant, Director of the Postsecondary Readiness Project at Advocates for Children of New York and Coordinator of the statewide Coalition for Multiple Pathways to a Diploma.

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

03.03.2021 | This week, Advocates for Children of New York joined more than 75 organizations to call on Governor Cuomo to ensure that schools get their full COVID-19 federal relief funding and that federal funding supplements, and does not supplant, state funding. The current Executive budget proposal would cut more than $700 million in state funding to NYC schools, potentially requiring NYC to use its federal COVID-19 education relief funding to cover regular day-to-day expenses instead of using it for the essential purposes intended by Congress of reopening schools and counteracting the unprecedented learning loss students have experienced. Without substantial state and federal support, the devastating impacts of this pandemic will plague the children of New York City with lifelong consequences.

Read the letter [PDF]

02.25.2021 | Today, AFC is submitting testimony for the New York State Joint Legislative Public Hearing on the 2021-2022 Executive Budget Health Proposal urging the Legislature to reject proposals to cut state funding for the Early Intervention (EI) program by limiting the services children can receive and, instead, invest more in EI by asking private health insurance companies to pay their fair share. Read our testimony [PDF]

02.18.2021 | Today, AFC is testifying before the New York City Council Committee on Education in response to the school safety bills in support of proposed legislation regulating the New York City Police Department’s response to students in emotional crisis within public schools, significantly limiting the use of handcuffs on students in emotional crisis, and to express concern about the need for a new vision of school safety, beyond merely transferring the School Safety Division from the NYPD to the Department of Education. Read our testimony [PDF]

02.01.2021 | Last week, a federal judge ordered that a Special Master be appointed over the New York City Department of Education’s (DOE) implementation of hearing orders to provide or pay for services for students with disabilities.  

When the DOE fails to provide appropriate educational services or school placements to students with disabilities, their parents may request an impartial hearing to enforce their children’s rights.  Following the hearing, an impartial hearing officer can order the DOE to provide services to a student or pay the cost of services or school tuition, but for years the DOE has failed to implement these favorable hearing orders in a timely fashion. Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and Milbank LLP had filed the motion requesting the Special Master in connection with the class action lawsuit, L.V. v. New York City Department of Education, after years of the DOE failing to provide the ordered services that students with disabilities required.  For example, between October 24, 2018 and January 21, 2019, the DOE implemented only 19.6% of hearing orders within the required 35 days.

Families request hearings as a last resort, after the DOE has denied their children the services or school placements they need to learn.  Further delays in implementing these orders only exacerbate the harm to students with disabilities, many of whom have had to wait months to receive services they were awarded by an impartial hearing officer, and to their families, some of whom have waited up to a year to receive ordered reimbursement for services, causing financial hardship.  Sustained delays in payment and implementation have resulted in providers terminating services, schools barring enrollment, and students who must wait even longer without the services and instruction that they need.

“For too many years, students with disabilities have been harmed by the DOE’s failures in providing the services they need.  We are hopeful that the Special Master will improve the DOE’s implementation process so students will not have to wait any longer for ordered services,” said Rebecca Shore, AFC’s Director of Litigation.  

”The appointment of a special master is the latest step in our 14-year saga to force the DOE to fulfill their legal obligation to provide educational services to students with disabilities in a timely manner,” said Erik Wilson, an associate at Millbank.  “The DOE’s longstanding abdication of those responsibilities has caused immense harm to these students, their families, and the schools and providers of these services.  We hope that court-ordered improvements to DOE’s systems and processes—based on the recommendations of an independent expert special master—will finally bring DOE into compliance and provide much-needed relief to those who rely on DOE for providing such services.”

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

01.28.2021 | Today, AFC is testifying at the New York State Joint Legislative Hearing on the 2021-2022 Elementary and Secondary Education Budget proposal, urging legislators to increase, and not cut, state education funding and ensure schools can use their full COVID-19 relief funding to reopen schools and help students catch up. Read our testimony [PDF]

cover of mayoral recommndations01.27.2021 | The next Mayor of New York City will take office at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the longstanding inequities in our City’s schools. Based on our 50 years of on-the-ground experience helping students and families navigate the largest school system in the country and get the support they need to learn, we outline some of the most pressing challenges in public education — including those that pre-date COVID — where the next Mayor must be prepared to focus attention, energy, and resources.

Read the full recommendations [PDF]


We call on the next Mayor to lead the charge on some of the most pressing challenges in public education:

Effective literacy instruction and intervention.

Revamp literacy instruction and intervention so that every child becomes a skilled reader and NYC becomes a national model for literacy development.

Mental health supports for students and police-free schools.

Enhance mental health support and reimagine school safety in police-free and anti-racist schools.

Language access for families.

Increase access to translation and interpretation services and improve communication with families to ensure that every parent, including parents with limited English proficiency or low digital literacy, can participate in their child’s education.

Support for students with disabilities.

Develop a multi-year plan to address chronic shortages in the special education system and ensure all students with disabilities receive the individualized supports and services they need.

Support for English Language Learners.

Develop a multi-year plan to expand dual language and bilingual programs, create new programs to support older English Language Learners, and recruit more bilingual teachers and service providers.

Support for students experiencing homelessness & students in foster care.

Launch an interagency initiative to tackle educational barriers for students who are homeless and establish a DOE office to address the unique needs of students in foster care.

Promote school integration and improve equity in admissions.

Address barriers to admissions for students from historicall marginalized communities and build inclusive, supportive, and effective school environments where all students can thrive. 

01.20.2021 | Today, AFC is testifying before the City Council Committee on Education about the impact of COVID-19 on student learning, outlining essential principles and critical elements that must be included in a comprehensive COVID-19 education recovery effort. Read our testimony [PDF]