NYC Private Schools for Disabled Get Funding Boost

NEW YORK—Over a hundred private schools for disabled and at-risk children will get 3.8 percent more state money, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday.

The 130 schools serve children suffering trauma, mental health issues, substance abuse, and emotional or physical disabilities. Though privately run, they’re funded with federal dollars distributed through individual states and local school districts based on “actual allowable costs.“

“Many of these schools are a lifeline to parents and communities, offering services beyond the classroom to support students who are faced with a special set of challenges,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The increase is welcomed and long awaited, said Bonnie Moses, interim executive director of Association for Metroarea Autistic Children, Inc., a non-profit running a school for 180 children with mental disabilities.

In 2009, after the recession,the state froze the rates for special education private schools. Even as the public school budget started to recover in recent years, private providers were struggling with rising costs, despite the fact that demand is growing.

In 2008 the city’s Education Department paid $144 million in private school tuition for special education students. In 2012 funding grew to $236 million, an increase of over 60 percent, according to data provided by the Independent Budget Office.

Special needs students are sent to private schools if public schools can’t provide appropriate services, as required by the federal law. The city then has to cover the tuition. “Many of the students in these schools are placed there as the last option in the continuum of services,” Governor’s Office statement reads.

Some legislators have been calling for an increase in funding for more than a year, such as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Catherine Nolan, chair of the Assembly Education Committee. “While we could not come to an agreement prior to the passage of the finalized state budget, today’s announcement of a 3.8 percent rate increase is a strong and significant investment in these vital schools,” Silver said in a statement.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab