Special needs schools fight for increase in funding

August 27, 2015 Meaghan McGoldrick
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Close to 200 supporters stood together outside Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office on Tuesday, August 25 to rally for greater funding for pre-schools serving special needs children.

Members of the Guild for Exceptional Children (GEC), HeartShare Human Services, YAI, United Cerebral Palsy of NYC, and more gathered at the rally – hosted by the Interagency Council of Developmental Disabilities Agencies, Inc – in hopes of urging the governor to approve a request made by the New York State Department of Education (SED) to increase funding for pre-schools serving children with disabilities.

SED’s request—which would increase current funding by 3.1 percent—is currently under review by the NYS Division of Budget, having already been granted signed letters of support from both the State Senate and the Assembly.

According to Paul Cassone, executive director of the GEC, funding for these schools hasn’t been increased in over six years and organizations like his are feeling the hit.

“Several pre-schools in the New York City area have already closed, because they could no longer sustain such devastating losses, and the Guild [has] suffered substantial funding losses as a result,” he said, stressing that, having already absorbed losses of close to $2 million as a result of unrealistically low tuition rates, the Guild for Exceptional Children’s Carrie Mastronardi Early Childhood Education Center (1273 57th Street) came close to closing at the beginning of 2015 before the state helped them break even.

“It would be great if they would also look at the way they calculate rate methodology to reflect some of the realities of living in New York City,” Cassone went on. “In what business can you have your revenue frozen for six years when you weren’t making money in the first place and still stay in business?”

HeartShare has also experienced difficulties operating on this limited budget, according to Jennifer Reres, the organization’s director of communications.

“This month, fifteen of our teachers resigned,” wrote Reres in an e-mail leading up to the rally stressing that HeartShare’s schools have a hard time competing with Department of Education salaries. “We are going into the seventh year with no budget increase, which has kept our teacher salaries stagnant.”

This is not the first time HeartShare has publicly addressed this issue.

“We have advocated in Albany. We’ve spoken to elected officials in Brooklyn and Queens, where our four pre-schools and The HeartShare School are located. We’ve told the stories of the children whose lives changed in HeartShare special needs, integrated (where special needs and normally developing children learn together) and UPK classrooms,” she said. “No one is acting to invest in teacher salaries.”

Still, Cassone said, the rally’s turnout was promising.

“We were encouraged by the turnout, especially since the preschools are typically on summer break during this part of August,” he said. “This turnout, on short notice and during the heat of August, is testimony to the gravity of the seriousness of this problem for families and for agencies attempting to support them.

The rally took place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. outside of Cuomo’s office, located at 633 Third Avenue in Manhattan.

Photo courtesy of The Guild for Exceptional Children
Photo courtesy of The Guild for Exceptional Children

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