Counties yesterday called on state lawmakers to include all preschool children in any effort to expand universal pre kindergarten in New York state.
"We applaud state and local officials for proposals to improve pre-kindergarten, and our members want to make sure that any attempt at expanding pre-K includes our children receiving preschool special education," said NYSAC President Mark R. Alger, the Steuben County manager.
Counties, which don't have education departments, pay for preschool special education. New York is the only state in the nation that mandates counties to fund the federally required preschool special education programming.
"County officials have no oversight or management function in this education program. We simply pay for the services and then bill the state of New York for a share of the cost," said Stephen J. Acquario, executive director of NYSAC. "One of the problems is that there is no single entity with oversight or accountability. School districts determine the needed services, providers are paid for the service, even when the child doesn't show up, and too many of these needy children fall through the cracks."
Currently, New York segregates how it provides pre-K education with two different systems: one for special needs children, administered through local health departments, and another through the state Department of Education for all others.
"As the father of a 4-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter with special needs, I know UPK can only be truly universal if it touches every preschool child in the state - especially those with special abilities," said Dutchess County Executive Marcus A. Molinaro in an op-ed published in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.Read the full op-ed here.
A 2007 Task Force on Preschool Special Education reported preschool special education children perform better in a school environment with their non-disabled peers.
"There is no question that the expansion of pre-kindergarten will allow the state to build a much more efficient and higher quality system of care for these children," Acquario said. "Should the state enact reforms to expand pre-kindergarten education, we need to be sure to include all of our children."