The Money Behind Special Education

In 1993, a group of concerned parents founded the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE).  They wanted to reform New York’s school finance system, so they filed a lawsuit challenging that the State underfunded New York City's public schools.  It took quite a few rounds of going to court, but in 2003, the New York State Court of Appeals—the State’s highest court—found that New York’s school funding system violated New York City schoolchildren’s constitutional right to a sound basic education.


Yet the State has still not adequately funded New York schools at the level the Court required.  In the first two years following the Court’s decision, the New York Legislature provided installments totaling $2.3 billion, but aid was cut after the recession, and has yet to recover.  Read the story of the CFE decision here, here, and here.

The Court decided that schools need more money, but they’re not getting any more.  And, of course, special education can take a huge hit when funds are tight.

Year after year, thousands upon thousands of students classified with disabilities do not fully receive the special education services mandated on their IEPs.  And the New York City Department of Education doesn’t even attempt to hide that fact.  Their Annual Report on Special Education for last school year estimates that 41,040 students were only partially receiving their special education services, and that 7,383 students were not receiving any special education services.  And this doesn’t even take into account the many disabled students who have not been classified and provided with IEPs.  That’s over 25% of classified students not receiving the full services mandated on their IEPs!  Getting that percentage down to single digits will undoubtedly require a funding increase.

But next year, the federal government plans to fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) at the lowest level since 2001, covering only 14.9% of per pupil expenditures.  When the IDEA was enacted, Congress authorized funding up to 40%, but the federal government has never funded more than 19%.

And as New York State plans its budget for next year, funding for education is still a big question mark.  The Alliance for Quality Education says the Executive Budget proposes a special education cut of $70 million for the coming school year, primarily through a change in the reimbursement formula for summer special education programs.  New York City officials say that the budget means $65 million less for the city’s special education programs, and Mayor de Blasio says the overall education budget falls $200 million short of what city officials projected.

Until our schools are funded at the level they deserve, students with disabilities will miss out on the services they need.  As the state budget is finalized this spring, we hope students with disabilities are kept in mind.