Bill to Increase Rates for Special Education in New York Receives Unanimous Support

Published August 25, 2021

New York State Senate Bill S6516-A, sponsored by John W. Mannion, and Assembly Bill A8013, sponsored by Michael Benedetto, would provide preschool programs for students with disabilities and school-aged special education programs with a payment rate increase compared to that which is provided to public school districts. These bills, which have passed the House and Senate with unanimous support, are currently awaiting the governor’s approval to be signed into law. The passage of this legislation would ensure special education students have an appropriate school setting to receive the education to which they are legally entitled.

Passage of this law is a matter of equity

New York relies on preschool special education programs and state-approved non-public schools to meet the needs of students with the most intensive special needs. However, prior to 2015, no increase in reimbursement rates was provided to these schools, and they received only a two percent increase from 2015 through 2020. Unfortunately, more than 60 preschool special education programs in New York have recently closed, many of which have pointed to the low reimbursement rates, which are far lower than those received by school districts across the state. A low reimbursement rate makes it difficult to recruit and retain special education teachers and to run a high-quality program.

At the end of the 2019-2020 school year, in New York City alone, 1,215 children were waiting for seats in legally mandated preschool education classes. The state has the responsibility to ensure that the educational and therapeutic needs of students with the most significant disabilities are met, yet without this legislation, state-approved special education preschool programs and non-public special education schools were due to receive only a 4% increase, while public schools will receive a 7% federal increase.

Over 100 advocacy groups and organizations banded together to write letters to Governor Cuomo requesting parity in payment rate increases for public school districts with preschool programs for students with disabilities and non-public schools serving students with special needs. Their letters in support of signing S6516-A/A8013 into law explain the importance of annual rate increases for these schools and the urgency in passing this law. Concerned that a delay might leave children with special needs without the funding they need to receive the education and services they require, their letters to Cuomo stated:

Parity in payment rate increases is a matter of equity: programs that serve children with the most intensive needs should receive at least the same annual rate increase as district programs. School-age students who attend non-public special education schools do so because they have significant needs that their district schools have determined they are unable to meet. Likewise, the State relies on preschool special education programs to meet the needs of preschoolers with significant disabilities who require a small class size led by teachers trained to educate students with disabilities. The programs that serve these children have experienced rising costs and have had trouble recruiting and retaining special education teachers with their current funding rates. We are particularly concerned about preschoolers with disabilities throughout the State who are going without the instruction and services they need because the State has a shortage of preschool special education classes.”

Based on the unanimous support the bills received in the House and Senate, the passage of this legislation is highly likely which will ensure fiscal stability and parity in funding for preschool special education programs and state-approved non-public schools with their public sector colleagues at a rate of 7%.

If approved, supporters believe the legislation will be a victory for New York schools serving students with disabilities and for the individuals they serve.

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