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Press Releases

11.23.2021 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the New York City Council’s passage of Intro 150-A, creating a task force focused on the transportation of students in temporary housing: 

AFC thanks the New York City Council for today passing Intro 150-A, creating an interagency task force to assess and make recommendations for addressing the barriers to transportation experienced by students who are homeless. We are grateful to Council Member Stephen Levin, Chair of the Committee on General Welfare, for championing this legislation and getting it across the finish line. 

School can be a critical source of stability for children who do not have permanent housing, but far too often, transportation challenges prevent school from playing this role. The City places more than 40% of families in a shelter in a different borough from their child’s school, leading to long commutes, unnecessary school transfers, and frequent absences. Delays in arranging bus service are common, and as busing is only available at the end of the school day, students who require it are often unable to participate in after-school programs with their peers. For example, schools are offering certain special education services after school to students with disabilities this year, but the City has not yet agreed to provide bus service to students who rely on it because they live in a shelter far from school, jeopardizing the ability of many students who are homeless to receive needed services. Greater coordination across City agencies is sorely needed to address these barriers. 

The tens of thousands of students who experience homelessness every year in New York City already face a multitude of obstacles to educational success; getting to school in the first place should not be one of them. We are eager for the task force to begin work and look forward to working with the incoming administration to implement its recommendations.

Read the press release as a PDF

11.18.2021 | Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) issued the following response to the release of the New York City Department of Education (DOE)’s special education data report for the 2020-21 school year: 

The data released today show that 23,000 students with disabilities did not fully receive their mandated special education instruction by the end of the 2020-21 school year. While we are glad to see progress from January 2021, when more than 42,000 students with disabilities were not fully served, there were still more NYC students not receiving their full special education instruction in June than there were students enrolled in all of the Syracuse public schools. 

On paper, the report released today paints a better picture than prior years, when even more students were not fully served by the end of the school year. However, the numbers themselves fail to capture the full impact of the pandemic on students with disabilities, who often went without access to instruction or services for substantial periods of time, even if they eventually received services by the end of the year. Throughout the pandemic, we heard from families whose children had to wait weeks or months for an iPad and, in the meantime, received no instruction or services at all. Other families found that their children’s special education instruction or services simply did not translate over a screen, or that their children’s disabilities prevented them from accessing services remotely. Furthermore, the report shows a concerning decrease in the number of initial referrals for special education (9,457 in in 2020-21, compared to 21,922 in 2018-19, prior to the pandemic, and 16,097 in 2019-20), likely meaning that more students went without the help they needed.

Under federal law, the City has an obligation to provide students with disabilities with make-up services to compensate for what they lost, and to bring them to where they should be but for the disruption in learning since March 2020. One year ago, AFC filed a class action complaint in federal court asking the DOE to create a system to provide these make-up services (called “compensatory services” in special education law). However, the DOE has neither resolved the case nor taken adequate steps to ensure students get the services they need and to which they are legally entitled. 

While the DOE has announced that schools will be offering certain special education “recovery services” to some students after school or on Saturdays, the start date for actually providing these services has already been pushed back—the majority of schools have not yet launched their programs, and some may not do so until early December or later—and many parents remain in the dark as to what their school will be offering and when their child will be eligible to participate. 

The staffing and implementation of these recovery programs are being left to individual schools, meaning the type and quality of the recovery services available to any given student will vary based on the school they happen to attend. We are also concerned that many of the students hit hardest by the pandemic will not have access to these programs. For example:

  • The DOE recently indicated that schools can choose to provide recovery services remotely, which will be of little benefit for those students who experienced regression precisely because online instruction was ineffective or impracticable for meeting their specific needs.
  • Children needing bilingual services were especially likely to have missed out last year—for instance, the data show that 17% of students needing bilingual speech therapy did not receive a single session of this service in 2020-21, compared to 5% of students recommended for monolingual speech therapy—but many schools will not have bilingual providers available after school or on Saturdays.
  • The DOE has not yet committed to providing bus service for after-school or Saturday services, despite the fact that many students will be unable to participate without busing due to the nature of their disabilities or because they live in shelters or foster homes far away from school. 

While special education recovery services, as currently outlined by the DOE, can be part of the solution, they will not be sufficient to meet the needs of all students with disabilities following multiple years of unprecedented educational disruption – or to meet the City’s legal obligation. We fear that the City is leaving families with no choice but to file administrative hearings against the DOE to get the full make-up services their children need and have a legal right to receive—putting further stress on an already over-burdened system, delaying the students’ access to these services as they navigate a hearing system that often takes more than a year, and favoring families who have the time and resources to hire an attorney and navigate a lengthy process. 

“The DOE’s plan for supporting students with disabilities in the aftermath of COVID-19 continues to fall short,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “It is critical that every student with a disability gets the extra help and make-up services they need, in a way that works for them and their family, without having to fight with the DOE to get them. The clock is ticking, and unmet needs from the pandemic will only snowball the more time passes.” 

View the press release as a PDF

11.08.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York released new data showing that more than 101,000 New York City students were identified as homeless during the 2020-2021 school year, a 42% increase since the start of the decade and a number that has remained stubbornly persistent in recent years: last year marked the sixth consecutive school year that more than 100,000 New York City students experienced homelessness.

Last year, as the pandemic raged and most students continued to learn remotely, nearly 28,000 of them did so while living in New York City’s shelters, and approximately 65,000 lived “doubled-up” with friends or family, staying temporarily with others in overcrowded housing. An additional 3,860 students were unsheltered last year, living in cars, parks, or abandoned buildings. While the total number of students identified as homeless was 9% lower than in 2019-20, some of this decline is likely attributable to the drop in overall public school enrollment (3.3%), as well as the difficulty schools experienced identifying students whose housing situation changed while they were learning remotely.

While COVID-19 has further magnified the educational challenges facing students who are homeless, this group of students has long experienced tremendous obstacles to success in school. For example, in 2019, only 29% of students experiencing homelessness in grades 3-8 were reading proficiently, according to the state tests, 20 percentage points lower than the rate for their permanently housed peers.  Students living in shelter—94% of whom are Black or Hispanic—face even more barriers to educational success. Prior to the pandemic, 57% of students living in shelter were already chronically absent—missing at least one out of every 10 school days in 2019-20—and only 52% of students living in shelter graduated high school in four years, 27 percentage points lower than the citywide average graduation rate. 

“No child should be homeless, but while Mayor-elect Adams’ administration makes plans to tackle New York City’s housing and homelessness crisis, they must meet the immediate, daily educational needs of students who are homeless,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children.

Today, AFC is joining more than 40 organizations in releasing recommendations calling on Mayor-elect Adams to take bold action to address the educational needs of students experiencing homelessness. The groups are calling on the new administration to overhaul the educational support system in shelters, starting by hiring 150 shelter-based DOE Community Coordinators who have the skills and knowledge needed to help families navigate NYC’s complex school system and connect students with educational supports. The groups are also urging Mayor-elect Adams to launch an interagency initiative to tackle the educational barriers these students face, such as chronic absenteeism, transportation, and delays in enrollment and services.

“With the right support, schools can transform the lives of students who are homeless,” said Kim Sweet. “The next administration should bring together city agencies and charge them with ensuring every student who is homeless gets the support needed to succeed in school.”

Read the data brief [PDF]
Read the joint recommendations
[PDF]
View the press release as a PDF

first page of policy brief10.18.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new policy brief documenting the pandemic’s heavy toll on school attendance for students living in homeless shelters and calling on the New York City Department of Education (DOE) to direct federal COVID-19 relief dollars to overhaul the education support system in shelters, starting with hiring 150 shelter-based DOE community coordinators. 

The brief, which examines monthly attendance data released by the DOE pursuant to Local Law 10 of 2021, shows that students in shelter had significantly more difficulty accessing an education than their permanently housed peers during winter and spring 2021. Between January and June, overall monthly attendance rates for students in shelter were lower than those for any other student group and trailed attendance rates for students in permanent housing by 10.6 to 14.1 percentage points, depending on the month. While the lack of internet access in some City shelters undoubtedly had an impact on remote attendance, the attendance rate for students living in shelter who opted for blended learning (some days in school and some remote) was just 2.3 to 4.3 percentage points higher on their in-person days than on their days of remote learning. 

There were especially high rates of absenteeism at the high school level: 10th graders living in shelter missed more than one out of every three school days in winter and spring 2021, while 9th, 11th, and 12th graders in shelter were absent more than 25% of the time.

While the attendance rates of students in shelter during the pandemic were particularly troubling, barriers to consistent attendance are not new.  In both 2018-19 and 2019-20, more than half of students living in shelter—94% of whom are Black or Hispanic—were chronically absent, missing at least one out of every ten school days. 

Unfortunately, this trend has continued into the start of this school year; the average attendance rate of students in shelter during the first couple of weeks of school was only 73%. 

“Children get one shot at a quality education, and every day a student is absent is a day of instruction they can never get back,” said Jennifer Pringle, Director of AFC’s Learners in Temporary Housing Project. “These alarmingly low attendance rates make clear that the DOE’s current shelter-based support system is not sufficient. There need to be dedicated, well-trained staff on the ground in the City’s shelters who can help students reconnect with school and access the educational supports they need to get back on track.” 

At present, there are not enough staff working in shelters who have the skills and knowledge necessary to help families navigate the school system, address barriers to attendance, and resolve educational problems: just 117 shelter-based DOE Family Assistants are tasked with supporting the roughly 30,000 students who spend time in shelter each year. The number of Family Assistants has not grown over the past decade even though thousands more students are now spending time in the shelter system than in years past. As there are more than twice as many shelters as there are Family Assistants, these staff must divide their time among multiple shelter sites and are stretched very thin. The Family Assistant position is also very low paid ($28,000 for 10 months), making it difficult to recruit and retain qualified staff for the role. 

Fortunately, New York City is poised to receive tens of millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funding specifically to address the needs of students experiencing homelessness—and the City has not yet decided how to allocate these funds. AFC, in partnership with 25 organizations, is recommending that the DOE use this funding to hire 150 new community coordinators to work on the ground in the City’s shelters and help students get to school every day. 

These coordinators would proactively assist families with getting school placements, bus service, and special education services in place as quickly as possible upon entering shelter and for the start of each school year; ensure that students are attending school regularly and help address barriers when students are not getting to school; and connect students to after-school programs, tutoring, counseling, and other supports. 

“New York City has long struggled to meet the needs of students living in shelter, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the many challenges these young people face,” said Pringle. “The good news is that the City now has funding to hire a new team of professionals who can help students succeed in school and break the cycle of homelessness.” 

Read the data brief [PDF]
View the news release as a PDF

07.08.2021 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the NYC Department of Education’s release of its plan for using its historic influx of funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act:

We appreciate that the City is using American Rescue Plan funding to pay for some important initiatives including investing in early literacy and preschool special education, developing new curriculum, and adding hundreds of social workers to our schools.  We look forward to seeing the full plan, as the details matter.  Every dollar is needed, and it’s important to ensure every dollar is spent wisely.

For example, with respect to the new universal curriculum, we want to ensure that it is both culturally responsive and grounded in the science of reading. While we appreciate the focus on literacy, we want to ensure schools will not only screen students in reading, but will provide the targeted, evidence-based instruction they need to become proficient readers.

At a time when school leaders have their hands full working to return to full-time in-person learning, it will be important for the DOE to provide substantial support and direction to help schools get effective intervention programs off the ground.  The DOE must ensure these programs provide the specialized support needed for students with disabilities, English Language Learners (ELLs), and students who are homeless or in foster care—students who were disproportionately impacted by the closure of school buildings and who are specifically named in the American Rescue Plan Act.    

With respect to students with disabilities, we are still waiting for the DOE to release a plan for make-up special education services for students with disabilities without requiring each individual family to request and litigate an administrative hearing, which can take months and sometimes years.  Families want to know how their children will get all the special education instruction and services they need to make up for what they lost during the pandemic—services they have a legal right to receive.

ELLs and immigrant students, whose needs the DOE had not been meeting prior to COVID-19, struggled to engage and learn during the pandemic.  While the DOE has allocated funding for ELLs and immigrant students, the current plan does not include funding for targeted academic enrichment, tutoring, or English language instruction for ELLs who did not receive their full set of English as a New Language or bilingual instruction during the past year.  We encourage the DOE to create a plan, beyond just teacher training, for schools to provide intensive academic and language enrichment specifically to ELLs and immigrant students, which can include Saturday programs, extended day services, and small group tutoring.

We look forward to working with the DOE to ensure all students get the support they need following the disruption and devastation of the pandemic.

View the press release as a PDF

06.30.2021 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the announcement of the Fiscal Year 2022 city budget agreement:

Following 15 months of unprecedented disruption in public education, we are pleased that the final budget includes a number of education investments originally announced in the Mayor’s budget proposal—such as special education services, preschool special education, social workers, and 100% Fair Student Funding—as well as new investments in literacy curriculum and integrated mental health support for students.

But with $7 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding coming to the DOE, we believe the City should have done more to target the needs of the students we work with every day. Today’s budget agreement reflects missed opportunities to address longstanding inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, while also leaving us with insufficient information about how the DOE will use a significant portion of the $7 billion.

Funding for English Language Learners and Students who are Homeless, in Foster Care, or in Juvenile Detention: We are deeply disappointed that the final budget does not allocate any of the DOE’s historic influx of state and federal funding for targeted programs or services to support English Language Learners, students who are homeless, students in foster care, or students in juvenile detention—students who were hit particularly hard by the closure of school buildings during the pandemic and will need extra help in the coming year.  Since much of the federal funding is still allocated in broad, undefined categories, left to the discretion of the Administration and DOE to decide how to spend, we, along with our coalition partners, continue to call on the City to invest:

  • $100 million for targeted support for English Language Learners, many of whom did not receive legally required English as a New Language or bilingual instruction during the pandemic, and $45 million for a multilingual communications and outreach plan to communicate with immigrant families and those whose primary language is not English.
  • $20 million to hire DOE community coordinators to work on the ground in shelters to help students who are homeless reconnect with school and access educational supports.
  • $1.5 million for a DOE office focused on students in foster care and $5 million to guarantee bus service for students in foster care so they can maintain school stability.  Currently, the DOE does not have a single staff member focused on meeting the unique needs of students in foster care.
  • $5 million to expand access to Career and Technical Education, College and High School Equivalency, and Vocational Programs for students in juvenile detention.


Special Education Services:
While there is federal COVID-19 relief funding allocated for make-up special education services for students with disabilities, the DOE has still not released a plan for how it will provide these services.  Families want to know how their children will get the special education instruction and services they need to make up for what they lost during the pandemic—services they have a legal right to receive.

Literacy: We appreciate the investment of $27 million for evidence-based literacy curriculum to help ensure NYC students learn to read, but this amount falls short of the $50 million recommended by the City Council and advocates.  In addition, the budget does not include any additional funding for evidence-based literacy interventions for students who need additional support in reading.  Every year, AFC hears from hundreds of families concerned that their students are not learning to read within NYC public schools, and the data show that less than half of 3rd through 8th graders are reading proficiently with alarming disparities based on race, disability, and housing status.

Mental Health and Social-Emotional Support: We appreciate the investments of funding for 500 new school social workers and $5 million for the Mental Health Continuum, a model for providing intensive, integrated mental health supports in high-needs schools.  The Mental Health Continuum model includes school partnerships with hospital-based mental health clinics, a call-in center to advise school staff about students in crisis, mobile response teams with mental health professionals who respond to students in crisis, direct mental health services, school-based mental health clinicians, and whole-school training in Collaborative Problem Solving, an evidence-based, skill-building approach.  However, we are deeply disappointed that the budget invests only $12 million of the federal COVID-19 relief funding in restorative justice, far less than the $53 million the Council had recommended or the $118.5 million needed for expansion to 500 high schools this year.

Preschool Special Education: We appreciate that the budget includes a new investment in preschool special education.  But, with 1,200 children waiting for seats in legally mandated preschool special education classes as of the end of the last school year, we are disappointed that the budget does not include funding to address the shortage of preschool special education classes until Fiscal Year 23 and does not extend salary parity to teachers of preschool special education classes even in FY 23.  3-K and Pre-K will never be “for all” until the City addresses the shortage of preschool special education classes.

Even in our darkest days, education has always been our best hope.  For a just and equitable recovery, the City must ensure the federal COVID-19 relief funding meets the needs of all City students—especially those most impacted by the pandemic who need specialized support more than ever this year.  We will keep advocating as the DOE finalizes its plan.

View the press release as a PDF

06.09.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) issued the following response to the NYC Department of Education’s first release of preschool special education data required pursuant to Local Law 21 of 2020:

Data released by the DOE show that at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, 1,215 preschoolers with disabilities were waiting for seats in legally mandated preschool special education classes in violation of their legal rights.  While the City and State have been expanding seats in general education prekindergarten classes, they have not met their basic legal obligation to provide preschool special education classes for children with disabilities who need them.

“The City and State continue to expand prekindergarten while preschoolers with the most significant needs are stuck waiting for seats in violation of their legal rights,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York.  “Parents of students with disabilities want to know why their children always come last.”

“The State and the City must end this civil rights violation,” said Randi Levine, AFC’s Policy Director.  As a first step, before the NYS legislative session ends, the State Legislature should take action to help stop preschool special education programs run by community-based organizations from closing—a significant contributing factor to the shortage of seats.  A. 8013 (Benedetto)/ S. 6516-A (Mannion) would provide preschool special education programs with a payment rate increase on par with the total school aid increase the Legislature approved for school districts—following years of underinvestment in preschool special education programs.  While the NY State Education Department requested a 7% increase for preschool special education programs, on par with the increase for school districts, the State Division of Budget has approved only a 4% increase.

On the City level, while we are pleased that the Mayor included funding in his budget proposal for preschool special education, including funding to open new integrated preschool classes and hire inclusion specialists in the coming year, none of the initiatives to address the shortage of preschool special education classes would take effect until the 2022-2023 school year—leaving preschoolers with the most significant disabilities waiting another year.  Furthermore, two years ago, the City reached an early childhood “salary parity” agreement to pay prekindergarten teachers at community-based organizations the same starting salaries as public school teachers as of October 2021, but excluded teachers of preschool special education classes from this agreement, leading preschool special class teachers to flock to other settings and leaving children with disabilities without teachers.  The City must commit to salary parity for preschool special class teachers in the final budget this year.

“We continue to hear from families desperate for help because their children with autism or other complex disabilities have no preschool seats available at the time in their lives when intervention can have the greatest impact,” said Kim Sweet.  “It’s time for the City and State to listen and respond.”

View the press release as a PDF

first page of data brief06.03.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new data brief, Police Response to Students in Emotional Crisis: A Call for Comprehensive Mental Health and Social-Emotional Support for Students in Police-Free Schools [PDF], exploring data on police response to more than 12,000 incidents between July 2016 and June 2020 involving a student in emotional distress removed from class and transported to the hospital for psychological evaluation—what the New York Police Department (NYPD) terms a “child in crisis” intervention. Mirroring broader trends in policing, a disproportionate share of these interventions involved Black students, students attending New York City Department of Education (DOE) District 75 special education schools, and students attending schools located in low-income communities of color. The brief calls on the City to end the criminalization of students in emotional crisis by eliminating police from schools and invest in a comprehensive, integrated system of school-wide, multi-tiered behavioral and mental health supports and services that will promote well-being and equity for all students and school staff.

The new brief is an update to AFC’s November 2017 report, Children in Crisis, which examined NYPD data on such interventions during the 2016-17 school year, the first full year for which data were publicly available pursuant to the Student Safety Act. In subsequent years, the number of child in crisis interventions only increased: during the first three quarters of the 2019-20 school year—the months prior to the closure of school buildings due to COVID-19—the number of child in crisis interventions was approximately 24% higher than the equivalent time period in 2016-17. Overall, almost half of all interventions during the past four school years involved children between the ages of 4 and 12, and in 297 instances, the NYPD handcuffed a student who was under the age of 13, including three 5-year-olds, seven 6-year-olds, and 23 7-year-olds.

Our analysis finds that Black students—particularly Black boys—and students with disabilities attending District 75 special education schools are dramatically over-represented in the population of students for whom an emotional crisis at school leads to an interaction with the police and removal to the hospital emergency room, as well as those handcuffed during these incidents. Between July 2018 and March 2020:

  • More than a quarter (26.7%) of child in crisis interventions involved Black boys, who were only 13% of the public school population; Black girls comprised 12.4% of overall enrollment but 20.1% of those subject to child in crisis interventions. 
  • More than one out of every three (36.7%) students handcuffed while in emotional crisis was a Black boy; Black girls subject to these interventions were handcuffed at twice the rate of White girls. 
  • Of the children between the ages of 4 and 12 who experienced a child in crisis intervention during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years, more than half (51.8%) were Black. 
  • At least 9.1% of all child in crisis interventions occurred in District 75 schools, even though District 75 enrolled only 2.3% of New York City students. More than one out of every five (21.3%) students handcuffed while in crisis was a student with a disability in District 75.

The data also show that law enforcement intervened in student mental health crises at significantly higher rates, relative to total enrollment, at schools in the Bronx, central Brooklyn, parts of midtown Manhattan, and southeast Queens, as compared to schools elsewhere in the five boroughs. Overall, nearly a third (32.7%) of all child in crisis interventions between July 2016 and June 2020 occurred in just ten of the City’s 77 police precincts—eight in the Bronx, along with the precincts encompassing Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn—even though schools located in those precincts enrolled less than a fifth of City students. Together, just two Bronx precincts—the 42nd and the 48th, which cover Morrisania, East Tremont, Belmont, and West Farms—handcuffed more children between the ages of 5 and 12 than all sixteen precincts in Queens combined.

“Students in emotional crisis need emotional support; they don’t need to be criminalized and handcuffed,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “As a city, we need to start treating all students as we want our own children to be treated.”

“Police responses are extremely traumatic for the student, their peers, and all school staff who witness the police intervention,” said Jennifer Finn, a special education teacher and member of Teachers Unite. “It is impossible to justify the use of law enforcement when a student needs emotional and behavioral support.”

The brief makes a number of recommendations for transforming the City’s response to children in emotional crisis and building the DOE’s capacity to provide effective behavioral and mental health supports to students. Among other recommendations detailed in the report, the City should:

  • Stop calling 911, the police, or Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to take students to the hospital emergency room when medically unnecessary; 
  • Enact Intro 2188, a bill pending in the City Council that would significantly curtail the NYPD’s ability to handcuff students in emotional crisis; 
  • Hire more clinically-trained mental health staff in schools or in organizations partnered with schools; 
  • Include $118 million in the Fiscal Year 22 budget to fund the full implementation of restorative practices; 
  • Invest $15 million in the Fiscal Year 22 budget for an integrated system of targeted and intensive supports and services for students with significant mental health needs, such as through the Mental Health Continuum recommended by the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline, the City Council, and the Comptroller; 
  • Staff the Borough Offices and District 75 with additional behavior specialists to provide direct support to schools struggling to address student behavior; and 
  • Expand inclusive school program options for students with emotional, behavioral, or mental health disabilities. 

“As a parent of a student with a disability and a Council Member in the Bronx, I am horrified by the idea that police are handcuffing students when they are in emotional crisis and that this is disproportionately impacting students with disabilities, Black children, and students in the Bronx,” said City Council Member Diana Ayala. “I have heard directly from impacted parents about how traumatic this experience is for their children. We must immediately pass Int. 2188, which outlines steps police must take before intervening when a student is in crisis and significantly limits their ability to handcuff these children.”

“Given the trauma that so many students have experienced over the past year and a half, it is more critical than ever that the DOE invest in public health alternatives to police interventions and 911 calls,” said Dawn Yuster, Director of AFC’s School Justice Project. “None of us would head to a police precinct for mental health care for ourselves or our children—nor should we rely on police to address children’s emotional needs at school.”

Read the data brief [PDF]
View the news release as a PDF


cover page of policy brief05.20.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new policy brief, Turning the Page on Literacy Instruction in NYC Schools, highlighting racial disparities in reading proficiency rates and calling on the City to invest part of its $7 billion in federal COVID-19 education funding in a comprehensive effort to revamp the way it provides reading instruction to all students and offer targeted interventions to those who need extra support.

The City’s current approach to literacy instruction has failed to ensure that our schools fulfill one of their most fundamental responsibilities: teaching children how to read. According to the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), more New York City students are reading below a basic level than are reading proficiently. In addition:

  • Only 16.7% of Black fourth graders and 18.1% of Hispanic fourth graders scored at or above proficient in reading on the NAEP in 2019, compared to 40.9% of White fourth graders and 45.6% of Asian fourth graders.
    .
  • Only 3.5% of Black fourth graders with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 4.4% of Hispanic fourth graders with IEPs scored at or above proficient on the 2019 NAEP, while more than eight out of ten were reading below a basic level.
    .
  • At more than 150 New York City schools, less than a quarter of students in grades 3-8 scored proficient on the most recent state reading test; these schools are particularly concentrated in the central and south Bronx and in Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn, as displayed in a map in the report. 


“Year after year, AFC hears from hundreds of parents whose children are struggling with reading and can’t get the help they desperately need at their public schools,” said Maggie Moroff, AFC’s special education policy coordinator. “We regularly work with middle and high school students who are still non-readers, unable to read picture books to their younger siblings, let alone age-appropriate books or their school textbooks.”

These outcomes are not inevitable. Research—along with AFC’s own experience seeing such students make massive gains when we take legal action to help them obtain intensive private tutoring or a specialized private school placement—shows that nearly all children, including those with disabilities, can learn to read when they are taught appropriately. But many schools continue to use curricula that are not aligned with the scientific evidence on reading development, while far too many teachers have never received the training and support they need to effectively translate research into practice and help their students become literate.

“My greatest concern was always my son’s reading,” said Gina Zelaya, the parent of a student with a disability. “Year after year, he struggled to learn to read. At every meeting with the school, I asked for more help and was told they were doing all they could. Even after I shared an evaluation with the school explaining the type of reading support he needed, the school said they didn’t have it and couldn’t offer it to my son. By the time he was in 5th grade, he was still unable to read. I felt I had no choice but to look for support for him outside his school.” 

With a historic influx of federal and state education funding headed to New York City, now is the time to turn the page on literacy instruction and ensure all children learn to read. Mayor de Blasio’s budget for the coming school year proposes using $500 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding for “academic recovery and student supports,” and the City is currently in the process of determining how it will use this funding. The report recommends the City invest: 

  • $50 million for evidence-based, culturally responsive reading curricula for core instruction, as recommended in the City Council’s response to the preliminary budget, to ensure all students receive the explicit, systematic instruction in foundational literacy skills that research shows is essential.
    .
  • $150 million to provide targeted one-on-one or small-group intervention, delivered by well-trained professionals, to students who need more help learning to read. We estimate that there are more than 100,000 students in grades 3-12 who could significantly benefit from evidence-based intervention.


“New York City should seize this opportunity to make long-overdue investments in literacy curriculum and interventions,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “As our schools recover from the pandemic, we cannot return to ‘normal,’ when ‘normal’ was not teaching our students how to read.”

Read the policy brief [PDF]
View the press release as a PDF

05.04.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and The Legal Aid Society released a report highlighting the urgent need for the Department of Education (DOE) to launch a small office focused solely on the needs of students in foster care. Currently, the DOE does not have an office, team, or even a single staff member dedicated to supporting youth in foster care, a group of students particularly in need of specialized support. 

The approximately 6,000 New York City students who spend time in foster care during any given school year – who are disproportionately Black and come from the City’s poorest communities – face enormous educational challenges. For example:

  • Only 42.2% of New York City students in foster care graduated on time in 2020, the lowest graduation rate of any student group and 36.6 percentage points lower than the rate for students not in foster care.
  • More than one in five New York City students in foster care repeats a grade, compared to only 6% of all DOE students.
  • The average student in foster care misses the equivalent of one-and-a-half months of school each year, and one out of every ten students in care has an attendance rate of less than 50%.
  • While 17% of all New York students have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) because they have a disability and need special education services, over half of New York’s students in foster care have an IEP.

In March 2018, the City’s Interagency Foster Care Task Force, whose membership included the Commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and the DOE Chief Operating Officer, recommended that the DOE establish an infrastructure to focus on students in foster care, similar to its Office of Students in Temporary Housing. 

Three years later, the City has yet to act on this recommendation—and without staff in place, there is no one at the DOE consistently advocating for students in foster care, ensuring that the unique needs of students in care are considered when making policy decisions, or focusing on developing and implementing programs to assist students in foster care. At a time when the DOE is receiving an historic influx of federal and state funding, this report demonstrates the continued need for a DOE office for students in foster care and describes key responsibilities this office would carry out, including:

  • Providing a point of contact for schools, families, and child welfare professionals with questions about students in foster care.
  • Training and supporting schools on the needs and rights of students in foster care and their families.
  • Supporting parental involvement in education while their children are in foster care.
  • Tracking and improving educational outcomes, opportunities, and programming for students in foster care.
  • Developing and implementing policies related to students in foster care.

“School has the potential to be a great source of stability to students in foster care, at a time in their lives when so much is unfamiliar and uncertain,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “With the right support in place, school can be a safe haven for students experiencing the traumatizing separation from home and family. It’s critical that the DOE pay greater attention to this group of students, to equip schools with the knowledge and resources they need to serve students in foster care and their families effectively.”

"Students in foster care are among the most vulnerable of New York City students,” said Dawne Mitchell, Attorney-in-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice at the Legal Aid Society. “They face tremendous challenges, ranging from trauma to frequent school changes, which can negatively impact their learning.  The creation of a dedicated office for children in foster care within the DOE can provide these students with essential services, and help ensure that their local schools have the training and resources that they need to meet these students' needs so they can be successful."

“As a former public school educator, I have witnessed first-hand the gap in knowledge among school staff about the overall needs of children in foster care,” said Dr. Brenda Triplett, Educational Director for Child Welfare and Family Services, Children’s Aid. “The pandemic has complicated the legal and logistical requirements to provide services for these youth and their families, in effect deepening longstanding inequities. Having a DOE office dedicated to understanding the needs of youth in care and mitigating the challenges they face is critical to their futures.”

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