NYC Looks To Lure Disabled Students, and Their Dollars, Back to Public Schools

In the 2019-20 academic year, more than a million students were enrolled in the city’s public schools. This year, the city projects enrollment is fewer than 900,000 pupils.

AP/Matt Rourke, file
Desks are spaced apart ahead of planned in-person learning at an elementary school on March 19, 2021, at Philadelphia. AP/Matt Rourke, file

New York City’s education chief is making a pitch to parents of disabled students who have left the public school system: Give us a second chance.

The chancellor, David Banks, on Monday announced a slate of initiatives intended to improve special education offerings in the city’s public schools.

The announcement comes several months after the chancellor took heat for attacking tuition payment programs for disabled students, accusing such programs of siphoning public school funding.

“All this money that is meant for the kids in our public schools are going to private schools,” Mr. Banks said in August. “This is money that’s going out the back door every single day.”

He took an accusatory tone toward families using the tuition subsidies. “Folks have figured out how to game this system,” Mr. Banks said. He was censured by advocates for students with disabilities and parents who relied on the subsidies.

The dollars in question fund tuition payments for “Carter cases,” referring to the 1993 Supreme Court ruling in Florence County School District Four v. Carter. The court ruled that local school districts can be sued for private school tuition costs if they do not provide an adequate education for disabled students.

If Mr. Banks can win back these families, New York city’s public schools stand to gain almost a billion dollars in funding — if it really is a zero-sum between the Carter cases and public schools.

In the 2022 fiscal year, the city spent more than $500 million on tuition payments for Carter cases and another $400 million on services related to program administration, according to a report from the city’s independent budget office. The administration fees mostly consisted of payments to education consultants and legal fees associated with the suits.

Public school advocates see these funds as being “taken away” from the public school system. School choice proponents, however, have long argued that taxpayer dollars should “follow the student.”

Spending on such tuition payments has climbed steadily over the past few years, especially since Mayor Bloomberg left office. Mayor de Blasio’s administration championed the program and made tuition grants more accessible to parents of disabled children.

“A lot of folks have left our system and we have to pay exorbitant numbers for folks to leave and go other places,” Mr. Banks said at a press conference last week.

During the press conference he announced a $205 million investment in programs for students with autism and sensory disorders, new internship opportunities for disabled high school students, and the formation of a Special Education Advisory Council.

He directed part of his address specifically to parents of disabled students who had left the public school system. 

“I hope that today marks the beginning of an announcement that helps rebuild your trust with our schools and will give you a reason to come back to your local public school,” Mr. Banks said.

Overall enrollment in New York’s public schools has declined nearly 10 percent since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Enrollment has fallen annually since 2016. 

In the 2019-20 academic year, more than a million students were enrolled in the city’s public schools. This year, the city projects enrollment is fewer than 900,000 pupils.

The New York Sun

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