Advocates and lawyers representing students with disabilities say the city has only intensified its recent battle against parents who want their children's private school tuition reimbursed.
The adversarial showdown, which stems in large part from the city's efforts to cut special education costs, means that children with special needs are taking longer to receive services that their parents believe they need.
"They're basically just fighting everything a lot more," said Kim Madden, director of legal services at Advocates for Children of New York, about the city's lawyers. AFC represents low-income families in many cases against the Department of Education.
As the new school year is set to begin, Madden said she expects the help line that her organization runs to start ringing off the hook. The complaints often come from parents who want schools to provide the services mandated by their child’s special education plan, such as occupational and speech therapy. Other requests are for transportation for medically fragile students and extra tutoring for learning disabilities.
But it’s the expensive reimbursement requests to cover private school tuition, which account for many of the cases, that have the city on the defensive. The city is projected to spend $256 million in 2014, or about 9 percent more than this year, on private school tuition for students whose parents successfully petition for reimbursements. All together, the city's bill for nonpublic school payments, excluding charter school spending, is on pace to increase 35 percent since 2010.
Anthony Weiner presents a proposal to support non-public schools outside a shuttered Catholic school in the Bronx.
Private schools would get a promotion in Anthony Weiner's Department of Education if he's elected mayor.
A headlining proposal of Weiner's plan to save Catholic schools would be to elevate the head of the office that administers taxpayer-funded services to non-public schools to a cabinet position, "giving them essentially a seat at the table at the highest realm," the former congressman said today at a press conference where he unveiled his plans.
Right now, the "Non-Public Schools Unit" is a relatively obscure office within the city's education department, falling under the Division of Operations. It distributes funds and services to which private schools are legally entitled under state and federal law. These include funding for textbooks and technology, and in-school nurses.
In all, non-public schools, including charter schools, received $260 million for those services last year, according to the city's Independent Budget Office.
But Weiner said non-public schools aren't taking full advantage of the funding streams they're entitled to. To make it easier, Weiner is proposing to digitize the loan process so schools could submit applications online. He said he'd also match the state's dollars with city money to provide additional technology for non-public schools.