NYS Counties Renew Call to Fix Preschool Special Education

 We can do better for our kids and our taxpayers.  That’s the message out of the New York State Association of Counties this week in a report recommending specific reforms to New York’s Preschool Special Education Program.

The report, titled “Roadmap to Mandate Relief: Improving Preschool Special Education,” details changes the State government can make to improve the services to families in need of these services, save taxpayers money, and make this government program more efficient. The latest recommendations would reorganize the State program, which provides services to children with disabilities between ages 3 and 5.

The report and recommendations are available on NYSAC’s website.

The deficiencies apparent in the Preschool Special Education program triggered an audit of 18 providers by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and an investigative series of articles published in the New York Times.  The Comptroller’s audits revealed severe program inefficiencies that have resulted in waste, fraud and abuse amounting to tens of millions of dollars annually.

“This is an egregious mandate. Counties do not have education departments- we are not in the business of education- yet we devote nearly $1 billion in local tax dollars to the State’s Preschool Special Education Program each year,” said NYSAC President Edward A. Diana, Orange County Executive.

Currently, Federal and State laws govern the Preschool Special Education Program and grant the legal authority to administer the program to the State and school districts. However, New York is the only state in the nation that mandates counties to fund a share of the Preschool Special Education Program.

This arrangement separates program decision making authority from fiscal responsibility. Remarkably, counties have no real role in the Preschool Special Education Program, other than to bankroll it. Unfortunately, much of this funding is not being used to serve the children-instead it is spent on transportation costs and salaries of provider executives.

“There have been many proposals to fix this program, but they have all failed to be enacted,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario. “With this report, we continue to press for reforms that will help the children being served and relieve the taxpayers funding these vital services.”

New York’s Preschool Special Education Program was enacted in 1989.  At its inception, the program cost approximately $96 million annually. Just 10 years ago, the program cost $792 million annually and served approximately 60,000 children. Today, the Preschool Special Education Program is estimated to cost $2 billion annually and serves about 75,000 children.

To find out what your county paid for Preschool Special Education in the 2009-10 school year, click here. (These are the most recent State Department of Education figures available for the program.)

“Our proposals will improve services, boost accountability, and save tax dollars at the State and county level,” said Acquario.

The report, released this week, is the second in NYSAC’s ‘Roadmap’ series of mandate relief reports, which detail changes the State government can make to save taxpayers’ money and improve government efficiency.

“Our county leaders are prepared to engage our partners at the State level to lower the cost of government and enact needed mandate relief,” said NYSAC President Edward A. Diana, Orange County Executive.

The New York State Association of Counties is a bipartisan municipal association serving the counties of New York State including the City of New York. Organized in 1925, NYSAC’s mission is to represent, educate and advocate for Member Counties and the thousands of elected and appointed county officials who serve the public.    

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