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Op-ed | How more DOE budget cuts will set our children back

School visits
Mayor Eric Adams visits Concourse Village Elementary School in the Bronx with Schools Chancellor David Banks and local elected leaders as they greet students and parents who are returning from holiday break on Monday, January 3, 2022. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

As parents of children in New York City schools, we were devastated to learn that the Department of Education was making significant budget cuts at the beginning of this school year, including to academic recovery programs that our children desperately needed to catch up. Officials said they would be making decisions on which students would receive services on a case-by-case basis.

But now, a full month into the school year, our children still aren’t receiving the programs and services they need. Worse, the DOE now plans to make even more budget cuts on top of the first. We can only imagine the catastrophic impact these cuts will have on our children and the thousands of children across the city who depend on academic support services to learn. Our kids deserve better.

My name is Noemy and I’m the mother of an elementary-school-aged son and a middle-school-aged daughter. During the pandemic, my children struggled a lot. Their grades dropped, even after they returned to school in person. 

Last year, I asked the school to have my son evaluated for possible special education services. It took many, many months for him to be evaluated, and I only recently got a plan for the services he needs. Although I’m grateful that he has been evaluated for new services, he still needs extra support to help him make up for what was lost over the past few years. 

My daughter also needs help with her English and other subjects, and I haven’t received any information about what her school can offer her. It’s very frustrating. No one has given me any information about programs that could help. In fact, I asked if my son could get a bilingual school or program, but his school told me they did not have that. Nobody in the school district offered me another school that had bilingual support or academic assistance or gave me information about this. 

This year is proving to be not much different thanks to the budget cuts. In fact, my son has not received the special education supports and services he was promised or the academic intervention services available to kids who are struggling to meet standards. Now with more cuts on the horizon, I am scared about what other programs or services we taken away? 

I’m Muslima, the mother of a 9-year-old daughter with special needs, including a heart defect, lung disease and hearing loss. Unlike Noemy’s son, my daughter had already been evaluated for special needs before the pandemic, so I was aware of some of the support she needed and was entitled to at school. She needs, among other things, a full-time nurse to be with her at school every day, along with services to help with her hearing, her speech, and small group tutoring in Math and English. Because of her various medical conditions, it is not safe for her to attend school without a nurse at her side.

At the start of the last school year, the DOE did not provide a nurse, even though they’ve been required to do so for years. Because of that, my daughter missed months of instruction. There were times when I would take time off of work so that I could go with her to school and sit in her classroom, just so she could attend. But it was only for a few hours, and I was not able to do it consistently, so she did not benefit like she would’ve if she’d been able to attend school regularly. During this time, she fell farther and farther behind.

When I complained to the school, they said that the school district was going to provide these recovery services to help her make up for all that she lost. But that extra instruction and support never came. When I did try to get answers, it took weeks, sometimes months, to get a response which meant even more time went by without my daughter getting what she needed.

While my daughter has thankfully received some services this year, such as a nurse, this year, she has still not received crucial assistive hearing technology, which is necessary to help her communicate and to navigate her school environment.

Now with even more budget cuts coming, schools will have fewer teachers and fewer programs and. I’m terrified the services I spent months waiting for will be taken away and my daughter will lose even more.

And it’s not just our children who are struggling. We recently heard about a study that showed that elementary school students may need at least three years to catch up to where they would have been had the pandemic not happened, and middle school students may need five years or more.

Making cut after cut to budgets and services that help vulnerable students will hold our children back even more. Our kids need access to more services, not fewer. We also need clear information — preferably in all the commonly spoken languages in NYC— about how families can access them. 

The Department of Education should step up,  recognize the dire need of children across the city, and provide the critical programming and support services they need so our children can receive the education they were promised. 

Ulloa and Young are parents of students with disabilities who live in Queens.

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