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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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Spring 2019 | On March 20, 2019, we testified [PDF] before the City Council Committee on Education on the preliminary budget and the importance of increasing funding for school social workers, direct mental health support for students, educational support for students who are homeless and students in foster care, and preschool special education programs. Click on the links below to learn more about each of AFC's advocacy priorities for the fiscal year 2020 City budget. 

Support for students who are homeless [PDF
In 2017-18, a record 114,659 New York City students were identified as homeless—a 66 percent increase since the 2010-11 school year. The final FY 19 budget included $13.9 million in one-year funding for Department of Education (DOE) support for students experiencing homelessness, including “Bridging the Gap” social workers to work with students living in shelters at schools with high numbers of these students, after-school literacy programs at shelters, and enrollment support for families. There is no funding in the FY 20 Preliminary Budget to continue these initiatives or for any other new supports for students who are homeless. The FY 20 budget must include and baseline last year's $13.9 million and add and baseline an additional $6.5 million to increase the number of DOE social workers dedicated to supporting students in shelters, establish an Education Support Center at the City’s shelter intake center, and increase the number of Students in Temporary Housing Central and Regional Managers. 

On March 5, 2019, AFC and more than a dozen leading child advocacy, education, and housing organizations sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio [PDF], urging him to include a significant infusion of resources in the budget to support students experiencing homelessness. 

Support for students in foster care [PDF]
Approximately 5,600 New York City students are in foster care. Students in foster care are among the most likely to need special education services, get suspended, repeat a grade, or leave high school without a diploma. Students often have to change schools upon their initial placement in foster care in New York City because they have no way to get to their original schools. The FY 2020 budget should include $5 million for yellow bus service for students in grades K-6 in foster care to ensure school remains a source of stability in their lives. The budget should also include and baseline $1.5 million to establish a Department of Education office focused on supporting students in foster care with central and borough-based staff.

On April 22, 2019, AFC joined 30 child welfare and education organizations in sending a letter to the Mayor [PDF] calling on him to increase support for students in foster care by including funding in the FY 2020 budget for these two initiatives.

School accessibility [PDF
Less than 1 in 5 of the City’s schools are fully accessible. Given the current lack of fully accessible school buildings, students with physical disabilities have limited options when applying to pre-K, elementary, middle, and high school programs. The proposed 5-year DOE Capital Plan (FY 2020-2024) includes $750 million for school accessibility, starting with $150 million for FY 20. We recommend that the final Capital Plan include at least this funding level, which would represent the largest capital funding investment in school accessibility to date.  

Investments to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline [PDF
Every child deserves to attend a high-quality school with staff who have the necessary tools and resources for building healthy, supportive, safe, and equitable learning environments for students and educators. We urge the City to invest in a comprehensive reform package that includes increasing the number of social workers; expanding whole-school restorative practices citywide; and investing in a mental health continuum to provide direct services to students at high-needs schools.

first page of newsletter

05.03.2019 | The latest issue of AFC's newsletter for parents and professionals, The Advocate, is a special edition dedicated to literacy! Highlights include: 

  • Answers to frequently asked questions about reading instruction, phonics, and Orton-Gillingham; 
  • A list of reading milestones that describe what your child should be learning during each of their first few years of school, along with common warning signs of future difficulty or disability; 
  • Fact versus fiction when it comes to dyslexia; 
  • And more!

Download a copy of the newsletter [PDF]

04.25.2019 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the release of the City’s Fiscal Year 2020 Executive Budget: 

We are pleased that the City is investing an additional $33 million to help support students with disabilities, including by hiring more school psychologists, creating additional programs for students in the early grades, and increasing the number of preschool special education class seats. We hear from families every day who are struggling to get the services their children need. We fully support the goal of creating more programs in public schools that will meet the needs of students with disabilities, including students with autism and students struggling to learn to read. We look forward to learning the details. 

Before the budget process concludes, we hope that Mayor de Blasio and the City Council will increase funding in the following areas to help students whose needs are often overlooked: 

Support for Students who are Homeless: We are pleased that the Mayor has baselined funding for 53 Bridging the Gap social workers at schools with high concentrations of students living in shelters, ending the annual budget dance and helping to ensure the long-term continuity of the program. But 53 social workers is woefully insufficient to meet the need. Currently, the City has 69 Bridging the Gap social workers, and there are still 100 schools with 50 or more students living in shelters and no Bridging the Gap social worker to focus on the needs of these students. The final budget must include funding for at least 100 Bridging the Gap social workers.

Direct Mental Health Support for Students: The City Council’s budget response called on the DOE to provide direct mental health support to students who need help the most through a school mental health continuum funded through ThriveNYC, as recommended by the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline. The Council also called on the DOE to hire an additional 110 social workers for high-needs schools. These vital investments would ensure that more students get the direct mental health and behavioral services they need so they can remain in school supported and learning. However, the Executive Budget does not include funding for either of these priorities. 

Support for Students in Foster Care: For students placed in foster care, school can be a key source of stability. The City Council’s budget response called on the DOE to ensure that students in foster care receive bus service so they don’t need to switch schools due to lack of transportation. This week, more than 30 organizations sent a letter to the Mayor requesting funding for guaranteed bus service for K-6th grade students in foster care, as well as a DOE Office for Students in Foster Care, as there is currently not a single DOE staff member focused full time on this student population. However, the Executive Budget does not include funding for these priorities.

Practices That Improve School Climate: While the use of Restorative Practices in NYC schools has expanded over the last few years, most schools still do not have access to this evidence-based approach that keeps students safe, supported, and learning in school, while they grow from their mistakes. The City needs to invest in bringing Restorative Practices to every school — and do so with fidelity.

We look forward to working with the Mayor and the City Council as the budget process continues to ensure the final budget invests in these critical areas.

View statement as a PDF

03.27.2019 | Advocates for Children signed on to an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Department of Commerce v. New York, challenging the proposed question on the 2020 census concerning citizenship status. The brief argues that including a citizenship question on the census will result in an undercount of immigrant communities. This undercount will result in the misallocation of education and community resource funding and harm students and their families. 

Read the amicus brief  [PDF
Read the news release [PDF]

03.27.2019 | Tonight, AFC is testifying before the Panel for Educational Policy in support of the City’s proposal to include $750 million to improve school accessibility in the 2020-2024 Capital Plan. That investment in accessibility, the City’s largest to date, will literally open doors to include and integrate individuals who are far too often excluded because of their accessibility needs. Read testimony [PDF]

03.20.2019 | Today, AFC is testifying before the City Council Committee on Education on the importance of increasing funding for several education priorities, including school social workers, direct mental health support for students, educational support for students who are homeless and students in foster care, and preschool special education programs. Read our testimony [PDF]

02.27.2019 | In a decision received this week, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) found that Success Academy Charter Schools and the New York City Department of Education (DOE) violated the civil rights of students with disabilities. The decision [PDF] was issued in response to a complaint [PDF] that Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), with its pro bono co-counsel, Akin Gump, filed in November 2018 against Success Academy Charter Schools and the DOE. 

NYSED sustained each allegation, finding that Success Academy Charter Schools violated laws protecting the educational rights of students with disabilities. In particular:

  • Success Academy failed to implement students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). The schools did not provide the special education classes, small group special education instruction, or testing accommodations that the students had the right to receive.
  • Success Academy changed the special education placements of students with disabilities without offering their parents an opportunity for input, failing to provide the legally mandated notices, meetings, and due process procedures. 
  • Success Academy failed to comply with orders issued at special education administrative hearings. Even after parents requested administrative hearings and got orders requiring Success Academy to move their students back to their original classes, Success Academy refused to comply, in violation of the law.

In addition, NYSED found that the DOE violated the rights of students with disabilities at Success Academy schools by failing to provide parents with the legally required notice before changes of special education placements and failing to ensure compliance with orders issued at special education administrative hearings. NYSED’s decision called the lack of coordination and communication between Success Academy schools and the DOE regarding Success Academy students with disabilities a “breakdown in the process.”  

NYSED issued a Compliance Assurance Plan, requiring Success Academy Charter Schools and the DOE to take corrective action to remedy these violations in the upcoming months.

“This decision makes clear that students do not give up their civil rights when they enter a charter school, and parents do not give up their voice in their children’s education,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of AFC.  “Charter schools have more autonomy than other public schools, but do not get to decide which special education laws to follow.”

“The NYSED decision provides much-needed clarity as to the dual-responsibility of charter schools and the DOE to uphold the rights of students with disabilities,” said Caitlin Griffin, Associate at Akin Gump.

“My daughter was in the wrong special education placement at a Success school for over 7 months,” said Brenda Melendez-Lozada, the parent of a former student at Success Academy.  “With this decision, I hope that no other child will have to go through what she experienced.” 

Read the news release [PDF

Read the decision [PDF

Read the complaint [PDF]

02.27.2019 | Today, Advocates for Children is testifying before the New York City Council Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction regarding the gap in access to direct mental health services and behavior supports for students with significant emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs. Read our testimony [PDF]

02.25.2019 | Today, Advocates for Children and the ARISE Coalition (coordinated by AFC) are both testifying before the New York City Council Committee on Education regarding the provision of special education services. The City must do more to extend the vision of equity and excellence in education to students with disabilities and to ensure that the needs of students with disabilities are considered and addressed in every DOE policy decision.

Read AFC's testimony [PDF]
Read the ARISE Coalition's testimony [PDF]

02.14.2019 | AFC submitted testimony for the New York State Joint Legislative Public Hearing on the 2019-2020 Health Budget proposal, urging legislators to increase the reimbursement rate for Early Intervention providers to help ensure children can get their services in a timely manner. Read testimony [PDF]