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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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Sixth Year Grads05.11.2020 | Today, more than 100 education and advocacy organizations and over five dozen parents and educators from across New York State sent a letter to the New York State Board of Regents and the State Education Department, urging them to give students who are aging out of school this year the opportunity to return to high school for the 2020-21 school year, rather than lose their chance to earn a high school diploma because of COVID-19.

While more than 95% of students who graduate high school in New York State do so in four years, a small subset of students needs five or six years to complete the requirements for a diploma. Last summer, approximately 2,700 students statewide—more than three-quarters of whom were Black or Latinx—graduated in their sixth year of high school. 

New York students who have not yet earned their diploma have the right to stay in school until the end of the school year in which they turn 21, and those who need this extra time to graduate have often overcome remarkable odds; they may be recently arrived immigrant youth who were learning English in addition to completing graduation requirements, students who dropped out for several years to work and help support their families, or students who spent time in foster care and changed schools frequently. The pandemic has now thrown their hard work into jeopardy. 

Many students across the State—through no fault of their own—have been unable to engage in remote learning and will not earn course credit this term. For overage 12th graders, the consequences will be dire: without an opportunity to finish their coursework when schools reopen, they will simply age out without a diploma, making it much more difficult for them to access post-secondary opportunities and jobs especially at a time of surging unemployment rates.

“Prior to this pandemic, our students were already facing obstacles - financial, health, caretaking - yet they still strive to earn their high school diploma. Now those challenges are magnified. We need to be flexible, to support these students to achieve their goals,” said Rachel Forsyth, who manages school programs focused on serving older students for Good Shepherd Services.

Michael Rothman, Executive Director of Eskolta School Research and Design, a nonprofit that partners with New York City Department of Education programs serving overage and under-credited students, said, “The pandemic has put into stark contrast the opportunities that some students have and others do not in our education system. Students who are overage in high school are disproportionately Black, Brown, and low-income and are more likely to be losing jobs, losing loved ones, and losing learning amidst the pandemic. To tell these students that they will not graduate because they hit the age limit in the midst of this difficult this time would only add to this inequity. This is one loss the State can do something about.” 

The groups are calling on the State to allow high school students to complete work from this school year at least until the end of summer 2021 and to allow students who are aging out of school in June 2020 to return for another year. 

“In light of the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic, the State needs to extend the age of eligibility and ensure schools have sufficient resources to give this relatively small but exceptional group of young people the last chance they need to earn a high school diploma,” said Ashley Grant, a Supervising Attorney 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]
View the data on last year’s sixth-year graduates [PDF]

04.17.2020 | Today, Advocates for Children joined 40 other organizations in calling on Mayor de Blasio to prioritize and fund necessary mental health services for all students. Along with our co-signers, AFC is concerned about the physical, mental, and economic toll COVID-19 is taking on our communities – including our students, educators, families, and schools. We recognize that the traumatizing impact on our students may be long lasting and all students, particularly those who had significant mental health challenges pre-dating the pandemic, will require mental health supports and services upon return to school sometime next year. 

We urge the Mayor to take a necessary next step in the administration’s increased efforts to develop and support innovative programs that serve individuals with the highest mental health needs by launching a program targeted to students with significant mental health needs who require a higher level of integrated services to succeed in school.

We call on the administration to include and baseline $15 million in the FY 2021 budget to launch and sustain a Mental Health Continuum to support the significant behavioral health needs of students in designated neighborhoods in high-need schools. Read the letter [PDF]

04.16.2020 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the release of the Fiscal Year 2021 Executive Budget:

Even in our darkest days, we have to continue to invest in the future, and our schools are our best hope. That is absolutely key to full recovery. 

In the year ahead, New York City students will need additional academic and social-emotional support to make up for the months of instructional time that have been lost to the pandemic and address the impact of isolation, fear, and loss. The budget cuts announced today would only worsen existing inequities and compound the immense challenges our schools and students are currently facing. 

We need our federal, state, and city elected officials to work together to ensure our schools have the resources they need so that the current crisis does not have lifelong consequences for a generation of children. 

View the press release [PDF]

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