City budget includes influx for school accessibility, social workers for homeless students

After months of negotiations, Mayor Bill de Blasio reached a handshake budget deal with City Council this week that includes a funding boost to make schools more accessible to students with physical disabilities and a modest increase in the number of social workers who serve the city’s growing population of homeless students.

Some of the biggest education items in the mayor’s $89 billion deal had been announced months earlier or were long-anticipated, including a $125 million increase in school budgets, and funding for the mayor’s expansion of pre-K for three-year-olds.

But this week’s agreement includes more funding for some of the city’s most vulnerable students — though not necessarily as much as advocates hoped.

The exact budget figures have not been made publicly available, and a City Hall spokesman said they would not be until City Council votes to approve them in the coming weeks.

Here are some of the deal’s biggest education highlights, according to advocates and city council members:

$150 million to make schools more accessible to students with disabilities

Most of New York City’s schools are not considered fully accessible: entire neighborhoods lack schools that can accommodate students with physical disabilities. And since the city had already exhausted all of its funding to make schools more accessible for the next fiscal year, advocates feared there would be no progress on building upgrades for at least another year.

But the budget deal includes $150 million over the next three years to improve access for students with disabilities, which will likely allow for major overhauls of at least 20 school buildings and minor enhancements to dozens of others.

“The [education department] is finally getting a grip on what kind of work needs to be done but they were out of money to do it,” said Maggie Moroff, a special education policy expert at Advocates for Children, an organization that pushed for increased funding. “This allows them to do it right away.”

More social workers dedicated to homeless students

The number of homeless students in New York City has swelled in recent years, with roughly one in 10 students living in temporary housing. The deal includes nearly $14 million to hire social workers in schools with high concentrations of students living in temporary housing — $2 million more than Mayor Bill de Blasio included in his executive budget.

City Council is funding the last-minute increase out of its own budget, according to Mark Treyger, chairman of the council’s education committee (advocates were watching this figure closely; de Blasio’s preliminary budget left out the funding entirely).

The funding increase, Treyger said, would be enough to hire roughly 20 additional social workers for homeless students, bringing the total to about 70. Advocates have called for roughly 150 social workers, and Treyger acknowledged it’s only a start.

“The goal is we need to get to over 100,” Treyger said. “Social workers are the most-equipped and best-trained to help advocate for kids.”

Additional counselors in schools that don’t have any

Last month, Treyger grilled education department officials over the fact that 41 schools don’t have a single guidance counselor or social worker.

The budget deal would help close that gap, with $2 million to hire counselors for those schools, though it wasn’t immediately clear how many would be hired. At a recent budget hearing, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza suggested not all schools necessarily needed a social worker or guidance counselor — an idea Treyger rejected.

“The administration did not add a dime,” Treyger said, noting the additional funding came from the council’s budget.