Improving Pre-school Special Education
A ROADMAP TO MANDATE RELIEF:IMPROVING PRE-SCHOOL SPECIAL EDUCATION IN NYS
New York State’s Preschool Special Education program provides essential services like speech andoccupational therapy to special needs children between the ages of 3 and 5. It serves as a bridge between the Early Intervention program (from birth to 3 years old) and a formal Individual Educa-tional Plan (IEP) in a school setting. Federal and State laws govern the Preschool Special EducationProgram and grant the legal authority to administer the program to the State and school districts.New York is the only state in the nation that mandates counties to fund the Preschool Special Educa-
tion Program. This arrangement separates program decision making authority from scal responsibil
-ity. Remarkably, counties have no real role in the Preschool Special Education Program, other than to bankroll it.New York’s Preschool Special Education Program was enacted in 1989. At its inception, the programcost 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 esti-mated to cost $2 billion annually and serve about 75,000 children. On average, approximately $22,000is spent per child per year, however some childrenreceive in excess of $200,000 in services each year. Despite having to fund the sky rocketingcosts associated with this program, counties haveno way to evaluate whether these costly servicesare providing good outcomes for these children. A number of smart government reform efforts have been proposed in recent years. However, State law-makers have consistently refused to address theissues of program cost and accountability.This summer (2012), the New York State Comptrol-ler released a series of audits that uncovered mil-lions of dollars of systemic fraud and abuse by anumber of large program providers. (See Appendix A.) Concurrently, the New York Times publishedan investigative series of articles detailing theunaccountable costs of the program and called forreforms to the way these important services arefunded and provided. (See Appendix B.)
Despite the efforts of the task force and therecommendations of four consecutivegovernors, the Preschool Special Education programawaits much needed reform.