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Comments of the Week: Anxiety over special ed funding change

Readers found no shortage of news to air their thoughts, grievances, and gripes this week. Most opposed city’s move to close 26 schools, but were more split over the union’s ongoing offensive on Mayor Bloomberg.

But it was our exclusive stories detailing the acute anxiety that principals felt as the city prepared to yank special education funding that drew the reactions that we’ll highlight in our weekly roundup of reader comments. Principals learned this week they could lose up to hundreds of thousands of dollars because of changes made to the special education funding formula. For those catching up, here’s how we explained the funding shift yesterday:

The new model allots funds based on the percentage of time students spend in each kind of special education class. Students who spend more than 60 percent of their time in Integrated Co-Teaching classes — which mix special education and general education students and have two teachers, one with special education certification — each bring their school $7,100. Students who spend less time in the classes, which are expensive to run, bring their schools fewer dollars.

Principals and teachers helped us a lot with our stories, but we learned more a lot from those of you who chimed in afterward. Comeonnow estimated the staggering mid-year cuts that some large high schools could be forced to sustain, suggesting that something more nefarious was at play:

As it stands right now, some large schools with large numbers of special education students stand to lose $500K in the middle of the year because DOE counts Phys Ed as one of the classes a school should offer to non-PE adaptive students. This is nuts and the DOE knows it. This is just a budget cut disguised as a miscoding error. Schools that have or will have Title I funding will see their additional funds eaten up by Central because they now have a deficit. It is a scam by central on their own schools.

Jamaicanbarb, a school administrator, pointed a finger outward:

The fault does not lie with the principals but with the “I gotcha” mentality of the “Bored” of Ed and the NYSED. As an administrator of a school going through this very process, we are at wits end trying to figure out a formula to keep what little funding we have to service our neediest students.

Principals told us that special education teachers spent a lot of time this week working to recode how their students were credited, in case funding could still be saved. One of those teachers, Mark Anderson, recommended more reporting on the various computer programs required to keep track of student data:

These discrepancies (I’m assuming you are referring to those between ATS/CAP and SESIS) are one of the most ridiculous yet underreported burdens that a school’s special education department has to deal with, with potentially huge consequences tied into funding, and compliance based state regulations.

Public officials chimed in as well. Queens Panel for Educational Policy board member Dmytro Fedkowskyj tweeted a one-word reaction:

As an advocate and member of the Citywide Council on Special Education, Lori Podvesker has frequently raised concerns about the pace with which the city was rolling out its special education reforms over the past two year. The funding discrepancy, she tweeted, justified her apprehension.

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