The erosion of special education services in New York State

Money is tight and the new method for getting budgets passed in the NY State capital is to cram everything into emergency budget extensions that the public never gets to see or comment on.

The other method for cost savings is to make rule and regulatory changes that have a public comment period - but it does not matter what the public says because the rules are going to be passed no matter what.

Early intervention providers saw this earlier in the year when they experienced a 10% rate reduction for most home and community based visits. This effectively limits the reimbursement to therapy providers and is driving a large number of professionals out of the delivery system. A mandatory 10% pay cut is significant, and although there were public hearings about changes to the rates and other delivery issues it really did not matter. Fewer providers means fewer services provided - which is precisely what the bureaucrats intended.

A new round of regulatory changes is on the horizon, this time taking aim at children who require speech therapy services and any children who are in integrated classrooms. The new regulations remove all minimum service requirements for speech therapy and they also allow for more children to be crammed into special education classes. Children who have autism are specifically identified as having their minimum services slashed.

The problem with all these changes is that there is no evidence that indicates this is the best way to reform or modify the system. This is pure knee-jerk reaction to a budget shortfall and has nothing to do with best practices. So, as we all continue to pay for waste, fraud, and abuse throughout the system - clueless bureaucrats and politicians sit in their ivory towers and make random cuts to budget lines that they probably don't have any ability to even understand.

The bottom line on all of this is that many schools are quickly becoming a de facto joke of a place for service provision. In most places the inability to effectively manage will cause you to be fired - will we finally apply this standard to the huckster administrators and career politicians who are pretending to manage our educational system?

My advice to parents is to monitor your special education services closely. The system is in a rapid free-fall, but you won't see it reported on much because it is happening in small bits through regulatory and rule changes. Anything discretionary (like summer and after school programs) are all being slashed. Staffing is being reduced and more children are being placed in classrooms. Reimbursement to providers is being cut. Children who previously received services are being declassified.

Families who have resources will use them to seek services privately - but those who do not have resources will simply suffer.

Some of this is a reflection of a tight economy. More of this is related to the New York State Plan Amendment that places vast new restrictions and requirements on Medicaid funding for special education services.

In all fairness, there is indeed a price for the fraud and abuse that has existed in this system for many years - but you do not solve the problem with fraud and abuse by failing to address the real problems and instead placing children in the cross hairs of your budget slashing methods.

The people in power will point to Medicaid fraud and say that budget shortfalls are not their fault.

They are hoping that you won't notice that they are trying to solve the problem at the expense of children who have disabilities.


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