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New York campaign launches tuition-loan program for schools serving students with special needs

Bureaucratic delays prevent children from getting an adequate education; legislation to provide bridge loans to help cover costs during the city’s long reimbursement process.

From left: National director of the OU's Community Projects and Partnerships Rabbi Simon Taylor; OU executive vice president and COO Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph; United Synagogue president Michael Goldstein; OU president Mitchel Aeder; OU executive vice president Rabbi Moshe Hauer; United Synagogue COO David Collins; United Synagogue Trustee Saul Taylor; and United Synagogue CEO Jo Grose. Credit: Courtesy.
From left: National director of the OU's Community Projects and Partnerships Rabbi Simon Taylor; OU executive vice president and COO Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph; United Synagogue president Michael Goldstein; OU president Mitchel Aeder; OU executive vice president Rabbi Moshe Hauer; United Synagogue COO David Collins; United Synagogue Trustee Saul Taylor; and United Synagogue CEO Jo Grose. Credit: Courtesy.

New York 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 those who require extra help.

The bill introduced on March 16 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 by the Bill 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 2% 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 make 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% of New York students have disabilities, compared to 7% in Houston.

For more information, call Teach NYS at 585-653-8453.

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Teach Coalition, a project of the Orthodox Union, is a nonpartisan, multi-state, grassroots movement devoted to advocating for equitable funding for nonpublic schools. Teach Coalition works to make nonpublic schools better, safer and more affordable. Teach Coalition advocates on behalf of approximately 90% of Jewish day school and yeshivah students nationwide and counts more than 90,000 dedicated volunteers, activists and subscribers among its supporters.
Teach NYS, a division of Teach Coalition, has a goal to solve the tuition crisis facing the nonpublic school community. Teach Coalition advocates for equitable government funding for nonpublic schools and counts over 200 schools nationwide as official members. Through direct application assistance, political advocacy, and grassroots activism, Teach Coalition is committed to making nonpublic schools better, safer and more affordable.
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