Parents, Educators and Advocates Launch Campaign to Pass Tuition Loan Program for Schools Serving Special Needs Students

17 Mar 2023

Bureaucratic Delays Are Preventing Special Needs Kids From Getting an Adequate Education

Legislation Will Provide Bridge Loans to Cover Costs During City’s Long Reimbursement Process

NEW YORK – Today, Councilmember Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn) took a major first step to solve a crisis plaguing families of students with special needs by introducing legislation that will provide loans to cover tuition costs while eligible schools await reimbursement payments from the city. The current system places students with disabilities in independent schools with tuition reimbursed by the City’s Department of Education. But extreme bureaucratic delays are failing New York families by denying adequate educational services for students who require extra help.

The bill introduced today significantly eases the financial burden on schools serving students with disabilities. It offers interest-free loans for eligible schools, as long as they are repaid in a timely manner. The legislation also includes measures to ensure oversight of schools participating in the program.

According to federal law, parents and guardians may place their children in independent schools if the government is not able to offer a fair and appropriate education in a public institution. Under a system first launched in the de Blasio administration, the city committed to working with families whose children with disabilities are best met in independent schools, with tuition reimbursed by the City’s Department of Education. However, long and costly delays have undermined the program, and only two percent of all students with disabilities benefited from its tuition reimbursements in 2019.

To provide immediate relief to schools and families while advocates work with the administration to fix the broken reimbursement process, Brannan’s bill would offer interest-free loans to eligible schools, so they will be able to cover tuition costs while reimbursement payments are processed by the city.

“Finally, there is relief in sight for a problem that has plagued our education system for too many years. It is unacceptable that bureaucratic delays are hindering schools’ ability to serve students with disabilities. We are activating our members and partners to support this bill – it’s a major first step in shattering the logjam and giving every student in New York the opportunity to thrive. Thank you, Councilmember Brannan for leading this fight,” said Sydney Altfield, Executive Director of Teach NYS, a project of the Orthodox Union.

“As a parent of a special needs child, this bill is a lifeline. Our family has struggled to place our child in school that fulfills the promise of an adequate education that is required under the law. Mountains of paperwork and endless delays makes the reimbursement process for families like ours a living nightmare.. All I can say is ‘thank you’ and please pass this essential bill into law as soon as humanly possible,” said Devora Spielman, parent of a student at IVDU School for Special Education.

“Thank you to Councilmember Brannan for being a champion for New York’s schools and students with special needs. This is about empowerment. This loan fund will unlock our ability to educate many more students, and give parents hope that the thousands of kids with learning differences will have the academic opportunities that are required by law,” said Rabbi Chananya Berman, school administrator of a special education school in New York City.

According to a recent report, 200,000 public school students are eligible for special education programs in New York City. The number of students who have an Individualized Education Program (or IEP) in New York City is greater than the entire student population enrolled in the public school systems of nearly every city in America. The proportion of students with learning disabilities in New York is also significantly higher than in other U.S. cities. Roughly 20 percent of New York students have disabilities, compared to 7 percent in Houston.