Autism Awareness Month
For many children, routines and predictability provide the comfort they need to function and flourish at home and in school. For children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, who frequently attend special state-funded schools that have the capacity and trained staff to meet their needs, disrupting a routine or a school setting can be disastrous. Yet, because of New York State’s outdated funding formula, these schools, their students and their families face annual budget uncertainty and the ongoing threat of closure or staff layoffs. Many of these schools have already reduced services or laid off staff while they provide services to an increasingly challenging student population.
Many students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in New York attend “Special Act Public Schools” or “853 Schools.” Both are types of schools created under New York State law to provide education to students with disabilities where a local district cannot provide the therapeutic environment and academic support needed for these students to succeed. However, due to the complicated funding methodology and historic underfunding of these schools, every year they are in desperate need of additional state operating funds and every year their students and families are uncertain they will be able to continue to operate.
Since becoming chair of the Assembly Education Committee‘s Subcommittee on Students with Special Needs, I have been fortunate to learn from parents, students, teachers and advocates about the unique needs of the children and the terrible challenges their schools confront. With no independent taxing authority and no ongoing source of capital funding, year after year they are dependent upon state funding as determined by the State Division of the Budget. For many years, they had no increase in funding while their costs continued to grow.
Last year, the Assembly successfully advocated for a 3.8% across-the-board increase from the Division of the Budget for Special Act and 853 schools for both their direct and indirect costs. In addition, we advocated for the inclusion of these schools in the Smart Schools Bond Act. Our efforts began to make up for some of the chronic deficiencies these schools have faced. However, after years of zero percent increases, Special Acts and 853s still face chronic underfunding. During this National Autism Awareness Month, it is a special time to renew our commitment to these children and the schools they attend. These students and their families deserve to know the schools and staff that provide them the consistency and routine they need will be there for them from one year to the next. New York State should be a leader – not a follower – for those with special needs.
Assemblywoman Mayer is the chair of the Assembly Education Committee’s Subcom- mittee on Students with Special Needs