About 900 New York City toddlers with special needs could be left without a spot in a city preschool program next year, according to a new analysis.
Advocates for Children of New York crunched newly released data from the New York City Department of Education and found a deficit of dozens of preschool special education classes in the spring of 2022.
“The State and the City need to step up and address this legal violation,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York. “This is the moment for the Governor and the Mayor to show they value young children with disabilities—that they will ensure there is a high-quality class for every child who needs one instead of leaving children on waitlists in violation of their legal rights.”
For years, the city has suffered a shortage of special education preschool seats. According to a DOE report, in 2020 over 1,200 preschoolers were left waiting for a special education seat. In order to help address the shortage, Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to add 16,500 3-k seats in the fall of 2021 expanding his “3-K for All” initiative to all 32 school districts across the five boroughs. In addition, the mayor has also promised to provide support to community-based organizations running preschool special education classes in order to allow those CBOs to offer 800 additional spots to children in the 2022-23 school year.
But advocates warn that adding additional seats to special needs preschool classes is only part of the solution. Officials, advocates argue, should commit to increasing the pay of privately contracted CBO preschool teachers and staff to be on par with their DOE colleagues. As a result, many CBOs teaching public school special needs preschools struggle to retain their staff.
“Every child deserves access to a strong start and the services they need, and the City’s investment in preschool special education will create hundreds of new special class seats, hire additional teachers, and more,” DOE spokesperson Sarah Casanovas said. Casanovas added that the City has added over 300 new integrated seats for three-year-olds this year and “are offering interim special education services and programs for any student awaiting a seat.”
“Families of young children with disabilities wonder why there are no seats for their children, why their children’s teachers are paid less than other teachers, why their children always come last,” said Kim Sweet. “The children waiting for seats are counting on the State and the City to act now.”