The New York City Council Education Committee will be holding an oversight hearing focused on the provision of special education in New York City on Monday at 1pm in City Hall Chambers. Members of the public are welcome to testify on any of the bills that are being considered as part of that oversight hearing.
Of the five bills being considered, the one most relevant to families who must sue New York City in order for their children to receive an appropriate education has been introduced by Council Member Helen Rosenthal of the Upper West Side.
Intro 1380 requires the DOE to annually report on the claims for special education tuition or services. If this bill is enacted, the DOE would have to provide a report each November 1st on a number of data points including when individual claims are received and responded to. If a claim is referred for settlement, the district will have to say when that happens, when a first settlement offer is made, when an agreement is transmitted to the Comptroller for approval, when the Comptroller’s office gives its approval, and when a settlement agreement is signed by the parent and the district. The district will also have to say when a first payment is made for tuition or services pursuant to a written settlement agreement. If a complaint goes to impartial hearing, the district will have to say when the hearing commences and when a decision is rendered. All this data will be collected with each individual case having its own row of a data in the DOE’s report, but without identifying information.
In addition, the DOE will be required to report this as aggregated data given in percentages to show, overall, how quickly the city is processing claims. For example, the DOE would have to give percentages of ten-day notices that are responded to within 15 business days, within 16-30 business days, or greater than 30 days.
This bill will go a long way in casting sunlight on how poorly the City is living up to the promises of Mayor de Blasio’s 2014 Special Education Initiative, in which his administration committed to expedite decisions on whether to settle within 15 days of notice, reduce extended legal battles, and to expedite payments to families, among other promises. As we have said in the past, while more cases are now referred for settlement and higher dollar amount settlements are being offered than in prior administrations, these improvements have been completely overshadowed by increasing delays at every stage of this process. It used to take around nine months from filing a claim to receiving a first payment for tuition reimbursement. Now, we advise clients to be prepared for it to take up to two years.
If you can’t afford to front two years of tuition, it hardly matters what dollar amount the settlement is. The basic math of this is why these delays have a particularly cruel impact on middle class families. We believe that these proposed reporting requirements will help New York families, advocates for special education students, and policymakers who care about these issues by giving much needed insight on where in the pipeline the biggest delays are located as well as the statistics we all need to monitor how well the system is working over time.
If you have personal experience with reimbursement delays and can speak to how this issue has impacted your family, professional practice (SEITs, school administrators or other related service providers), you should consider testifying in person or submitting testimony by email.
You can testify in person. Bring 20 copies of your remarks to the hearing. The Department of Education will testify first. Lawmakers questioning government agencies often takes quite a bit of time (sometimes hours), so plan to be there for most of the afternoon. Also, since there are four other bills on special education topics being considered there may be a large number of advocates waiting to testify on those important issues too. After you speak for 3 minutes (it’s timed), lawmakers may ask you questions about your testimony.
You can also submit testimony in writing. It is best to do this by Monday. However, the record will be kept open for three additional days (until the end of the day on Thursday). Email your testimony to both Council Member Rosenthal’s Legislative Director Ned Terrace at firstname.lastname@example.org and Education Committee Senior Legislative Counsel Malcom Butehorn email@example.com directly.