N.Y. Plan Calls for Mainstreaming Preschool Children

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New York state education officials unveiled a plan last week that calls for mainstreaming preschool children with disabilities and shifting the cost of educating them to school districts.

The plan also would strip private agencies of the right to evaluate children and decide where they should be placed, and transfer the responsibility to the districts.

Carl T. Hayden, the chancellor of the state board of regents, said the proposal "helps taxpayers by reducing costs and also helps the children by integrating more preschool children with disabilities into natural settings instead of keeping them in segregated settings." In the 1993-94 school year, about 75 percent of the approximately 43,000 3- and 4-year-olds in special-education programs in New York state were in segregated settings, according to the state education department.

Under the plan, which requires legislative approval, the state would increase its share of the funding over three years from just under 60 percent to 80 percent. School districts would pick up 10 percent of the tab during the first year and 20 percent thereafter. Counties would no longer have to foot 40 percent of the bill.

But the overall per-pupil cost would likely drop, state officials said.

"It can't continue the way it is organized," said Lawrence Gloeckler, the deputy state commissioner in charge of educational services for people with disabilities.

Five years ago, such programs cost $98 million. During the 1993-94 school year, the programs and services exceeded $450 million.

Increasing Costs

In large measure, the escalating costs can be traced to the way the system is structured. New York state law permits parents to select any certified private-agency provider to evaluate their children.

Frequently, state officials said, the evaluator refers the child to his or her own agency.

"This would be a conflict of interest if it were not officially sanctioned by the state," Louis Grumet, the executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, said last week in a letter to Mr. Hayden that opposes a number of the other provisions of the plan.

The association specifically objects to burdening districts with additional costs.

But Mr. Gloeckler said fiscal accountability goes hand in hand with making placement and evaluation decisions.

Vol. 15, Issue 21

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