Report: DOE sending students to programs with no space, at new costs to taxpayers
NEW YORK – New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio today released Rocky Start: Problems with Turning 5, a report cataloging the burdens on thousands of students with disabilities, their parents and taxpayers caused by poor planning at the Department of Education. The report shows that due to the Department’s missteps in what is known as the “Turning Five” process, 2,500 students with disabilities and their families are being directed to utilize Non Public School (NPS) programs that cannot possibly accommodate a large influx of additional students. Additionally, by directing thousands of students to utilize these programs, the Department could end up costing city taxpayers over $10 million.
Public Advocate de Blasio is now requesting an external review of this year’s Turning Five process in order to effectively correct the current problems and reform the agency’s procedures. This review request follows previous inquiries from de Blasio’s office, to which the Department failed to fully respond.
The full report is available below or can be downloaded here: http://advocate.nyc.gov/files/TurningFivePolicyBriefFINAL.pdf
“Thousands of children with special needs and millions of taxpayer dollars are on the line because of the Department of Education’s poor planning,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “It’s my job as the City’s watchdog to hold agencies accountable for their mistakes. I am urging the Department to fully cooperate with my office’s inquiry into the placement process.”
Each year under the Turning Five process, the Department of Education conducts meetings with children with disabilities who are about to enter kindergarten to evaluate them and find suitable classroom placements. If the Department fails to place rising kindergarteners by June 15th, it is required to issue a “Nickerson” letter to their families; this letter guarantees that the Department will cover the cost of Non Public School programs for these families.
An analysis of the Department’s actions in this year’s Turning Five process reveals three substantial problems that impact both parents and City taxpayers:
Not Enough Space in NPS Programs: Research by de Blasio’s office reveals that available NPS programs clearly do not have the space to accommodate even a majority of the 2,500 rising kindergarteners. These programs can only serve a maximum of 2,484 students ranging across all grades, not just kindergarten, and are already populated with students. With these limitations, it is clear the available NPS programs cannot accommodate thousands of new kindergarteners with special needs.
Potential increased cost to taxpayers: The Department is now required by law to cover the cost of attendance for those students who successfully enroll in approved NPS placements at the taxpayers’ expense. Even with limited space, if just 50% of affected families decide to utilize the NPS programs, the added cost to taxpayers will be over $10 million.
Confusion for Parents: As the parents of these 2,500 children with disabilities try to navigate securing one of the limited NPS placements, they are simultaneously waiting anxiously for a public school placement, which many of them prefer. Given the lack of room at NPS programs and the Department’s refusal to state publicly by what deadline they will have public school placements for the remaining students, thousands of parents have limited options and information on where their children will attend school.
Correspondence between Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s office and the Department released in today’s report shows that the agency has yet to take the necessary steps to resolve these problems by holding relevant departments within the agency accountable for their mistakes.
As a result, Public Advocate de Blasio’s office is proposing the following recommendations to the Department:
Commit to working cooperatively with de Blasio’s office to provide an objective external review of this year’s Turning Five process and hold accountable any sections within the Department that are responsible for these mistakes;
Publicly release a plan with specific, achievable deadlines to provide public placement options for all 2,500 students by July 15th;
Disclose the Department’s history of NPS placements from the last three years to study what classifications of students are granted Nickerson letters and subsequently enrolled in NPS placements, and use this information to improve public school special education services.