NYC education

Cheers to a New Year!

As 2018 comes to a close, we want to reflect upon—and thank all our clients and supporters for—the successes of the past year.  We're also excited about what 2019 has in store!


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This year, we have:

  • worked to secure appropriate educational evaluations, services, and placements for dozens of students with disabilities;

  • hosted our first annual Know Your Rights Conference at Columbia Law School (cosponsored by Columbia Law School's Education Law and Policy Society, and INCLUDEnyc);

  • worked with the ARISE coalition and others to obtain increased funding for accessibility improvements in NYC school buildings;

  • conducted trainings in—and made presentations on—special education law topics to parents, lawyers, social workers, neuropsychologists, educators, and other professionals throughout New York State;

  • published guides to developing IEPs and 504 Plans; and

  • most importantly of all, continued to learn from and work with dedicated parents, students, and educational and related service providers across New York City.


We also look forward to more great things to come in 2019, including achieving more victories for our clients and continuing to provide information and resources to parents and educational and related service providers throughout the state.  Check out our upcoming events page to stay up to date with our activities, including tabling at the INCLUDEnyc fair in January!

And always remember to check out our resources page or contact us if you have any questions!

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Chancellor’s Capital Budget Proposal Takes Important Step for Accessibility


NYC Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor Richard Carranza took an important step last week to make public schools more inclusive for students with disabilities by proposing an additional $750 million over the next five years to make at least a third of schools in each public school district fully accessible.  The announcement is a vital step in creating inclusive public schools for students with disabilities so that they can fully enjoy all the resources the school system has to offer. 

The proposal echoes the funding amount that Advocates for Children suggested in a report last month, “Access Denied,” and responds to persistent advocacy from groups like the ARISE coalition (of which The Law Office of Steven Alizio, PLLC is a proud member) that urged the DOE to include funding in this plan to meet accessibility goals.  The Access Denied report documented how only about 20 percent of schools across the NYC system are fully accessible to students with disabilities.  Other schools that are partially accessible may have certain areas that are off-limits to students with disabilities; for instance, a school may have an accessible first floor but no accessible way to get upstairs.  

Carranza’s proposal is the first step in the capital plan process, which happens every five years.  The current proposal lays out all of the new construction and building improvements the DOE wants to fund for fiscal years 2020 to 2024, and proposes spending $17 billion in total.

Across the city, more than 200 NYC school buildings are more than 100 years old, which means the city would have to demolish and rebuild many of them to make them fully accessible, the DOE told Chalkbeat recently.  For that reason, the capital plan focuses its spending on bringing partially accessible schools up to fully accessible standards rather than prioritizing schools that are not accessible at all.  According to Chalkbeat, the DOE said that these improvements will range from “‘really easy fixes,’ such as adding ramps for wheelchairs, to ‘very big overhaul projects,’ such as building access to a second-floor gym.”

In addition to improvements in building accessibility, the total capital budget proposal of $17 billion includes plans for more permanent classroom space—although this will not necessarily mean smaller class sizes—air conditioning, and technological improvements, all of which could benefit students with disabilities by increasing comfort and access to learning materials in diverse formats, depending on how the school system implements those improvements.


As Advocates for Children said in response to the capital plan announcement, the increased accessibility will “literally open the doors” for students with disabilities.  But we hope that the DOE does not stop there.  Having only a third of schools in each district accessible can still impose hard limits on where students with disabilities can learn, what school events parents with disabilities can attend, or where teachers with disabilities can teach.  There is no guarantee that a student’s zoned school, or the one with academic programs in which they are interested, will be accessible or close enough to be feasible, particularly given the busing issues that plagued the school system earlier this year.

According to “Access Denied,” even District 75 programs, which are meant to specifically serve students with disabilities who require more intensive services than other schools can provide, are sometimes housed in less than fully accessible buildings. 

All this does not even mention, of course, the education that students get once they are physically able to access the school building.  Based on the newest data from the DOE, nearly 40,000 students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) did not get some or all of the services they were mandated to receive in the 2017-2018 school year.  A number of news outlets also reported earlier this year on systemic issues with IEP services and concerns about getting students the therapy services to which they are entitled.

Nonetheless, Carranza’s announcement should provide much hope.  The additional money earmarked for increasing school accessibility will improve the quality of education for countless students across the NYC system and, importantly, shows that advocacy from parents, teachers, and students does make a difference. 

The DOE will gather input from Community Education Councils and other community representatives on the proposed plan through February, and in March will submit a revised plan to the Mayor and City Council for approval, according to the timeline in the plan.  We encourage all those involved with the NYC public school system to make your voice heard throughout this budget process and continue to push for what you think will make the school system the best it can be for all students.

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.