The State Education Department is considering relaxing some requirements for how students with special needs are served, a cost-cutting bid that has advocates worried.
The state has asked the Board of Regents to approve a slate of “mandate relief” measures at its monthly meeting next week. The measures that SED wants lifted include the requirement that a psychologist weigh in every time disabled students’ individualized education plans are changed and the prescription of specific tests when a student who is suspected of having a disability is first evaluated.
Currently, school psychologists are full-time members of special education committees that make all decisions related to a student’s IEP, but the new regulation would only require them to consult on initial IEP meetings.
In addition, the new regulations would no longer require psychological evaluations, speech and language tests and assessments from therapists, all of which are currently conducted when a student is first diagnosed.
Such services are costly and districts complain that the mandates go above and beyond what is required for many of their students. New York, the country’s top-spending state in per-pupil special education services, has about 200 more special education mandates in place than the federal government requires, and SED argues that the extra requirements are restrictive for local districts.
The proposed regulations are the culmination of discussions that have lasted for more than a year. Gov. Andrew Cuomo picked up the beat when he entered office earlier this year and has made mandate relief a priority as part of his efforts to reduce education funding and ease the tax burden on New Yorkers.
The recommendations came despite widespread opposition from people who spoke during the public comment period that was opened this summer. They included family members of students with disabilities, teachers, special education service providers, and advocacy organizations.
“It’s definitely something that the advocacy community is worried about,” said Maggie Moroff, Advocates for Children’s special education coordinator.
The recommendations are also likely to be met with some opposition from at least one Board of Regents member.
“Our neediest children need protections,” said Regent Kathy Cashin. “Our psychologists need to be able to give children evaluations and it should be a high mandate to make sure our kids get what they deserve.”
Also on the agenda for Monday’s P-12 Education Committee meeting on Monday is a $113 million federal charter school grant and how that money should be doled out to charter schools. To qualify for the grant money, charter school applicants will have to demonstrate a commitment to bringing larger populations of high-needs students. The priority is in line with recent efforts by charter authorizer to push charter school applicants to do more to welcome these types of students.