Education officials dismiss Banks’ comments about private school tuition

Faced with fierce opposition after Chancellor David Banks said the city was spending too much money on private schools for students with disabilities, senior education officials dropped the comments during a city council hearing on Wednesday.

“I can assure you that the Chancellor’s comments were not meant as presented and he has apologized on many forums for this,” Christina Foti, head of the special education department, said during a city council hearing after several Lawmakers had raised the matter.

Last month, Banks told parent reps that “people have figured out how to play this system,” citing private school payments that have soared to over $1 billion in recent years. He suggested that the city could avoid budget cuts if more of that money was diverted to public schools.

“We could pay for all the after-school programs, all those things. That’s money pouring out the back door every day,” Banks said.

Those comments prompted fierce and swift opposition from parents, attorneys and some lawmakers, who pointed out that students with disabilities have a legal right to private placement if the city is unable to provide adequate care for them in a public school . It’s also not clear that the city would save money by serving these students in public schools without reducing services.

Banks’ comments, first reported by Chalkbeat, prompted several city council members to question officials about the department’s plans on Wednesday. And it also sparked an unusual series of clarifications from senior education officials, including the department’s chief attorney, the special education director and a deputy chancellor who oversees instruction. Banks did not attend Wednesday’s hearing.

“Parents don’t play the system — the system is broken,” Rita Joseph, the chair of the city council’s education committee, said during the hearing. “My office has been contacted by lawyers [and] Parents who are both outraged and stressed by the Chancellor’s proposal to cut this important source of funding for students with disabilities.”

Education officials said that, contrary to Banks’ comments, they are not seeking to cut private school tuition directly, but hope to build public programs that can better serve students with disabilities.

Carolyne Quintana, the deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, said the department is “not trying to cap payments”. Instead, “we’re looking at ways to give families what they need upfront,” she added, “to reduce the need to file such cases and to ensure that the cases that go to a hearing have consistent, appropriate outcomes and.” keep the law.”

Payment of tuition to private schools for students with disabilities has long been a topic of debate. Some parents see the system as essential to ensuring their children receive adequate services that are often unavailable in traditional public schools, from supporting students with relatively mild problems, such as dyslexia, to major intellectual delays.

But tuition reimbursement can be a time-consuming process that benefits families with time, money, or help from volunteer attorneys — and some argue that the money sent to private schools should instead be used to build public programs designed for all more accessible are families.

Some students are placed directly with private schools by the Department of Education if the city agrees that the student cannot be adequately served in a public program. Placements in these state-approved programs cost about $400 million last year, said Liz Vladeck, general counsel for the Department of Education.

Other families are having to sue the city for tuition fees, often referred to as the Carter cases, which cost $800 million last year, though Vladeck said that number is likely to increase since their accounting of last year’s expenses isn’t is complete. (This also includes payments for private special education services other than tuition.)

Vladeck also pointed out that the number of special education due process complaints in which parents claim their child is not receiving adequate services has risen to over 18,000, a more than four-fold increase in the last 10 years. The system that handles these complaints is struggling with backlogs, although city officials are in the process of shifting oversight of that system.

Still, Department of Education officials have claimed that while most families approach the tuition reimbursement process in good faith, others do not. Vladeck said there are some “lawyers or counselors” who do “special assessments” and then direct families to programs they run that charge more than $200,000 per student.

A spokesman for the Department of Education did not immediately substantiate this claim, nor answer a question about whether the city contests students’ internships in these cases.

“I know the chancellor is very committed to making sure every dollar goes to children, not helping someone build their business,” Vladeck said, “and I think that’s what it’s about.” [Banks’] Commentary agreed.”

Maggie Moroff, a special education expert at Advocates for Children, said it would be “significant” if the city could admit more students with disabilities into traditional public schools, and she appreciates “the DOE working to explain and think through [Banks’] Comments.”

“Our concern remains that all students with disabilities here in New York City are getting the support they need,” Moroff wrote, “and if that can’t be done in the public schools, it must be done outside of them.”

Alex Zimmerman is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York covering New York public schools. Contact Alex at [email protected]

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