2014 Special Education Initiative

NYC Must Address Tuition Reimbursement Delays

Image: A piggy bank drowning.

Image: A piggy bank drowning.

In 2014, Mayor Bill De Blasio announced his Special Education Initiative, pledging to ease the burden on parents with private special education tuition and fee claims by expediting decisions, reducing extended legal battles, reducing paperwork, and expediting payments.

We were cautiously optimistic. But four years later, we are heartbroken for our families. The city took something already broken and found new ways to shatter it.

The best thing you can say about the change we’ve seen since 2014 is that the DOE’s decision to settle on a ten-day notice is being made a little more quickly than in the past. However, the execution of settlement agreements is far too often deferred for many months longer. Depressingly, paperwork requirements have actually increased with the supposed move to “monthly” payments. And, most disastrously for our modest income families (and schools accepting Connors or pendency placements), payments to parents and schools are more delayed than ever.

This is a citywide problem affecting every lawyer in our bar and every school and private provider of special education services. Schools, parents, and attorneys can dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t,’ and call with polite reminders until they are hoarse, but the only thing dividing the parent or provider who receives a timely payment from the one who must refinance their loan is luck of the draw. It isn’t fair, and it isn’t right.

Last year, Council Members Dromm, Kallos, and Garodnick wrote to the Mayor to describe how these systemic delays were impacting their constituents. The DOE's General Counsel Howard Friedman wrote back and acknowledged the delays, but pointed the finger at the NYC Comptroller and “new administrative systems.”

We began the 2017-18 school year hopeful, but sober, and unfortunately we have not seen any real effort to address these issues. Earlier this week, we wrote to Mayor De Blasio and Chancellor Carranza to once again detail our concerns and demand that the City make good on its promises to the families of special needs children in New York City. We will keep you updated on any replies we receive. If you wish, you can forward this letter to your local City Council Member with a personal note about your own family’s experience. Every bit of advocacy helps.

DOE Considering Multi-Year Settlement Agreements

Earlier this week, the NYC DOE’s Office of General Counsel advised our office that some parents will have the option of entering into a three-year renewable settlement agreement with the NYC DOE. As many of you may recall, Mayor de Blasio’s 2014 Special Education Initiative that started the “Fast Track” settlement process also included the prospect of multi-year settlements.

But don’t get too excited yet. Thus far, the proposal from the DOE is not favorable to parents. In fact, the current proposed language significantly weakens a parent’s position in settlement. The DOE does not appear to be committing to paying out for years two and three at the time of the agreement, rather, they’re setting a cap on the amount they’ll reimburse for years two and three if the IEP remains the same and if the DOE has reason to settle the case.

In other words, the language of the proposed agreement forces parents to commit to a maximum dollar amount in reimbursement, but relieves the District of its responsibility to pay if certain conditions are not met. Additionally, because parents remain obligated to file Ten Day Notices each year, a multi-year settlement under the DOE’s current proposal requires that parents continue to be in an adversarial position with the DOE.

We will continue to communicate with the Office of General Counsel to determine whether equitable multi-year settlements are a possibility.