After having their reimbursements frozen for years, the state has reduced the amount given to therapists who provide early intervention services each of the last two years.
A May survey conducted by an advocacy group, United New York Early Intervention Providers, found that 75 percent of 1,500 providers in the organization said they could no longer afford to be in the profession and planned to leave.
Chicago Public Schools is required by law to provide special-education services to every student who needs them. Financing for the other students comes from the state, and the legislature sent the governor a budget last week cutting early childhood education by 5 percent, from $342 million to $325 million. District officials have told several principals with early-childhood programs that money would go first to schools with the highest number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches, the common definition of poverty in schools. Vick and Stock schools, located in middle-class neighborhoods, are likely to be among the last in line.
The budget-cutting mood in Springfield comes as CPS tries to deal with a deficit of more than $720 million and the loss of federal stimulus money to support programming.
Many students require inclusive environments, places where they can learn next to typically developing students, and Vick and Stock provide dozens of CPS’s blended preschool classrooms. Those classrooms consist of a certified educator, a special education teacher and one or more aides to serve roughly 20 students, six of whom have special needs.
“We’re mandated to provide these children with service, but what will we be able to provide them in terms of inclusive environments? I don’t know,” said Richard Smith, the school district’s director of Specialized Services. “It’s going to be extremely problematic.”
Money for special needs students is not threatened, but there may be limited or no funding for mainstream students at Vick and Stock, so it may not be possible to maintain blended classrooms. The alternative could be a program only for special needs children.
“It’s a step backwards, truly, in terms of best practices,” Smith said. “These students with disabilities need to be part of the community. When they’re with their peers, to me, it’s better than any type of therapy a therapist can provide.