CHEEKTOWAGA, NY (WKBW) — The Developmental Disabilities Alliance of Western New York (DDAWNY) and a coalition of special education schools held a rally in Cheektowaga Friday demanding funding equity.
The New York State budget will provide a 7-percent rate increase in Foundation Aid for public schools, however, it calls for only a 4-percent increase for schools that provide special education for children with development disabilities.
Special education school leaders, teachers and families rallied at Aspire of WNY calling for fair and equal funding for children with special needs.
Students of all ages, and with a variety of development disabilities, want the state budget department to hear their rallying cry for equal funding at their special education schools.
“This lack of equity in funding for schools serving children with disabilities is simply unacceptable and it’s wrong,” declared Douglas DiGesare, CEO, Arc Erie County New York.
Teachers and families served as their voices, speaking on their behalf.
They say without a full 7-percent increase to funding, special ed schools, such as Aspire, Autism Services, Bornhava, Buffalo Hearing & Speech Center, Cantalician Center for Learning, CHC Learning Center, Gateway Longview, OLV Human Services, The Summit Center, We Can Preschool & Childcare, The Children’s League and Arc of Erie County New York, can't offer competitive wages to teachers and staffers and it's causing a tremendous turnover in classrooms, which hurts student development.
“Our students at Cantalician see at least one new staff member in their classroom every three months — that's unconscionable,” stated
Christman says it's heartbreaking to watch staffers come and go because of low wages.
“Why does the New York State Department of Budget treat my colleagues and I differently than a public-school teacher,” questioned Christman.
Families say special education school, known as 853 and 4410 schools, should receive the same amount of state Foundation Aid provided to public schools.
“I want Evan to be happy every day. I want him to be clean everyday. I want every opportunity there is for him to learn. because someday he might get something more,” Kerry Preston, grandmother.
“This budget shouldn't even be a discussion — that's my feeling on it. We shouldn't even have to be here today,” remarked Jamillah Davis, Cantalician parent.
Davis’s son, Douglas, 18, attends Cantalician.
Davis says the number of children with development disabilities is rising, not decreasing. She credits Cantalician for their work as her “support team” and says they are like family to her.
State Assembly woman Monica Wallace appeared at Friday’s rally in support of the schools and families.
“To put them on par with every other kid in New York State,” Wallace noted.
Wallace says the “money is there” and in the past it was on par with public school funding.
“What are the chances of getting this equal funding for the special ed schools?” Buckley asked.
“I’m going to do everything I can to encourage them to revisit that and if they don't, I will be pursing legislation to fix it,” responded Wallace.
And in case the state budget department needs any more convincing, Aspire student James Parisi, 3, who has a form of muscular dystrophy, was all revved up in his special motorized chair with his toy microphone in hand to help spread the world.
His father, Anthony Parisi, says with a lack of funding, it is hard for the school to maintain services that are designed specifically to help children like his son.
“Any change in the level of resources — the level of staffing and services they receive can have a detrimental effect on them,” Parisi explained.
The state budget department issued the following statement in response to our request for comment:
“This administration has worked to ensure all of New York’s students have the resources they need and has increased funding for special education providers by approximately $300 million over the last decade. The state is continuing those investments with an $85 million increase in providers’ funding, or 4% – tied for the largest reimbursement rate increase in more than 20 years – and providers don’t face all the same costs as school districts, such as transportation. Meanwhile, the state is also taking action to mitigate potential revenue losses for these providers that would otherwise result from pandemic-related 2020-21 and 2021-22 school year enrollment declines.”
New York State Division of the Budget