New York State Exposed: State rules for children in school

Posted at: 03/17/2014 6:44 AM
Updated at: 03/18/2014 9:18 AM
By: Berkeley Brean

Local school districts tell News10NBC it is time for Albany to give them back control. Every time the state government passes a new mandate, it has the potential of costing your schools more money and it can affect your property taxes. That’s one of the reasons why we are doing our exclusive series, New York State Exposed.  

A group of local school leaders went to Albany Monday to lobby the state for more funding. The leaders also want the state to reduce the number of mandates it places on local districts, including what some call excessive regulations on special education.

This is not a critique of special education, a vital part of our school system to help children with special needs. This is about the state telling local districts, whose school boards you elect, how to do its job and spend its money. In this category, New York is number one in the country, by a long shot. 

Michael Burgio is a special education student in Greece. His mother calls him a gift. 

Kris Burgio, parent of special needs student, said, “Every child is a gift and I think it's made me a better parent and a better person.”

Teaching students like Michael costs a lot of money. Greece spends more than $24 million on special education every year. On average, 20 percent of every district budget is special education. One of the reasons it is that high in New York is state mandates. New York has more than 200 mandates, laws and regulations, above the federal guidelines for special education.  California has fewer than 30. 

Kathy Graupman, Assistant Superintendent of Student learning, Greece Central School District, “When we look at other states that don't have those additional 200 mandates, it just can be frustrating.”

Kathy Graupman is the Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning in Greece. The office that oversees the special education that Michael and his classmates get. 

Graupman said, “I feel like if we had more local control and could be creative on how we use our resources, I think we could have a better impact on students and we could raise achievement.”

Kris Burgio says mandates protect children like hers. 

Burgio said, “However, I wish some of the mandates would be looked at that are unnecessary.”

She means red-tape mandates like paperwork, filing orders. That’s what you find when you flip through the list of mandates. You find rules about "timelines," "subcommittees," and "notices" for parents. 

News10NBC asked the New York State Education Department why it's mandated so many laws and regulations on special education. In an email, the state education department says some of its mandates "differ from federal requirements" and that the Board of Regents has supported changes. That would result in cost savings to school districts. “The state education department says in the last three years "substantive revisions were approved, affecting special education." But the hundreds of mandates that still exist cost a lot of money. 

Jody Siegle, Monroe County School Boards Association, said, “It's been calculated that the additional cost of these extra 200 laws adds well over $2 billion a year to the cost of providing services, statewide.” 

Jody Siegle runs the Monroe County School Boards Association. 

Siegle said, “California and somewhat less than 30 additional ones. But we have more than 200.” 

Berkeley Brean said, “Why is that?”

Siegle said, “That’s a good question and I can't really answer it except to say it's normal in New York State that when someone is unhappy about something, there's often a law passed to address it and I think that's just happened over the years until we have hundreds of them.”