Over 400 hundred educators and family members made it clear: “Our Kids Are Your Kids!” On June 25, The InterAgency Council (IAC) and the Coalition of Provider Associations (COPA) held a town hall rally at CUNY Graduate Center to raise awareness of the staffing and funding crisis affecting 4410 and 853 special education schools across New York State.

For more information about this crisis, watch this video from PIX11 News that was shown at the rally.

“A System in Crisis”

853 state-approved non-public schools and 4410 preschool special education programs are facing daunting challenges. Years of insufficient investment from New York State government has led to “a system in crisis” as Chris TreiberAssociate Executive Director for Children’s Services for IAC, termed it in a presentation he gave at the rally.

These special schools are simply unable to pay their staff a competitive salary, leading to massive turnover rates for both teachers and teaching assistants. The turnover rate for teachers was 31% in non-public schools and 26% in the preschool programs. Concurrently, vacancy rates have nearly doubled from the 2016-17 school year to the 2017-18 school year.

To make matters worse, teachers and assistants can make much higher salaries by becoming public school teachers. In Long Island, the three-year average teacher salary in a 4410/853 school was $51,690; in a Long Island public school, teachers averaged $98,536 over the same time period.

Chris saved his most grave statistic for last: 61 preschool special education programs have closed state-wide in the past three-and-a-half years. Thirty-one of the special education preschool program closures were in New York City.

The programs are life-transforming for these kids and yet the State is not funding them adequately and that’s threatening the whole system,” Chris said.

First-Hand Accounts of the Crisis

Courtney Case, a parent advocate whose son attends AHRC New York City’s Brooklyn Blue Feather (BBF) elementary school, said that when her son first joined BBF he made immediate progress, including becoming more personally expressive and affectionate. But as state funding rates remained low, her son’s teachers simply could not afford to remain at BBF. Courtney got emotional as she described how her son has regressed due to the lack of consistent education staff members working with him.

Early Childhood Teacher Barbara Grunenberg shared the impact of inadequate funding from someone who has worked in the profession for nearly forty years. Emily McGibbons, a teacher for school-age students at Developmental Disabilities Institute, explained the impact that high turnover and teaching vacancies is having on co-workers and, most especially, the children.

Next Steps

Assembly Member David Weprin attended the event and professed his continuing support for these programs. He said that the teachers in attendance provide an invaluable service to families across New York State and deserve better than the current crisis. Representatives from Assembly Member Richard GottfriedAssembly Member Joe Lentol and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal offices also came to the rally.

IAC and AHRC New York City will continue to raise awareness on these issues in the coming months, and all are encouraged to contact their representatives to ensure they support more funding for 853/4410 special education programs.