In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Shortly after Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014, he made it easier for students with disabilities to attend private schools with the city picking up the tab.
That policy change is quietly having an enormous impact: The cost of sending students with disabilities to private schools has doubled since de Blasio was sworn in and has reached $325 million per year, dwarfing the price tag of some of the mayor’s highest-profile education initiatives.
The expense eclipses the mayor’s Renewal program to turn around struggling schools ($192 million per year); a recent increase in the funding formula that governs city school budgets ($125 million); and even the often-debated Absent Teacher Reserve for educators without permanent placements ($136 million in 2018).
The sharp increase is notable because it suggests the city is increasingly acknowledging that it can’t provide an adequate education to students with disabilities within traditional public schools. And the trend is at odds with schools Chancellor Richard Carranza’s desire to send fewer students with disabilities to schools outside the system.
“It’s telling that the city doesn’t have the programming needed to educate a lot of kids,” said Lori Podvesker, a policy manager at INCLUDEnyc, a support agency for young people with disabilities.
Officials said 4,431 students with disabilities attended private schools paid for by the education department in fiscal year 2017, according to the most recent data obtained by Chalkbeat, a third more than in 2014. Overall, there are roughly 225,000 students with disabilities in city schools.