Megna: Schools For Blind and Deaf Cost NY $93,000 A Student

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In an op-ed in newspapers tomorrow, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget director Robert Megna seeks to beat back criticism of the governor’s proposed cuts to the state’s 11 schools for the deaf and blind.

Disabled students, parents, and advocates rallied at the Capitol today to restore $100 million in state aid to schools for the deaf and blind, including schools in Rochester and White Plains.

But Megna argues in his piece that the schools cost New Yorkers $93,000 a student, far surpassing other special-education programs and needs to be reformed just like all other parts of the budget.

“Making the cuts needed to solve a $10 billion budget problem inevitably includes proposals that draw visceral reactions. The Governor’s plan to reform funding for the schools of the blind and deaf is one of these proposals,” Megna states in a copy of the op-ed obtained by Gannett’s Albany Bureau.

It continues:

“But changing the way we fund these 11 schools is the right thing to do, both for the taxpayers and for the students involved. You wouldn’t know it from the newspapers. From newspaper coverage, it would appear that the Executive Budget proposed to “slash” funding for the schools for the blind and deaf and that these schools, commonly called 4201s, will be forced to close – a “tragedy” that will cause children to suffer.

This type of language is typical of the annual budget dance, and if nobody is criticizing, then we haven’t proposed a responsible budget. But in this case, the rhetoric has gotten so inflamed that it is removed from reality.

Let me be clear: the schools for the blind and deaf do amazing work. From these schools come stories of inspiration, and of children overcoming adversity to flourish. Yes, these stories do reach Albany, and the Governor very much understands how important these schools are.

But budget discussions cannot be made based on our level of inspiration. We need to apply the same discipline when examining funding for 4201 schools as we use for any other part of the budget.

Here’s the full op-ed piece.

Making the cuts needed to solve a $10 billion budget problem inevitably includes proposals that draw visceral reactions. The Governor’s plan to reform funding for the schools of the blind and deaf is one of these proposals.

But changing the way we fund these 11 schools is the right thing to do, both for the taxpayers and for the students involved. You wouldn’t know it from the newspapers.

From newspaper coverage, it would appear that the Executive Budget proposed to “slash” funding for the schools for the blind and deaf and that these schools, commonly called 4201s, will be forced to close – a “tragedy” that will cause children to suffer.

This type of language is typical of the annual budget dance, and if nobody is criticizing, then we haven’t proposed a responsible budget. But in this case, the rhetoric has gotten so inflamed that it is removed from reality.

Let me be clear: the schools for the blind and deaf do amazing work. From these schools come stories of inspiration, and of children overcoming adversity to flourish. Yes, these stories do reach Albany, and the Governor very much understands how important these schools are.

But budget discussions cannot be made based on our level of inspiration. We need to apply the same discipline when examining funding for 4201 schools as we use for any other part of the budget.

A hard look at the books shows that the average tuition for these 11 schools is about $93,000 per pupil, compared to about $41,000 at the other 100 plus special education schools in the State or about $59,000 at schools that serve severely disabled children. If I didn’t ask why this is, I wouldn’t be doing the job the Governor hired me to do.

These schools have been funded differently than all other private special education providers in the State. Other special education schools are paid first by the school districts, with the State providing partial reimbursement for the expense based on the school district’s wealth and other factors.

In contrast, the 4201 schools, have their own funding stream direct from the State, with the costs set by politicians in Albany — no wonder they’re more expensive for the taxpayers. What the Executive Budget proposes to do is to treat these schools like every other private special education school in New York.

The law requires that students be placed in an appropriate setting, as determined by their local Committee on Special Education (CSE). Nothing in the Governor’s proposal will change this.

The Governor’s proposal to make funding for 4201 schools consistent with the funding of all other special education schools will mean that some districts will have to pay more for these services. But payments will be made in a more rational basis that continues to meet the needs of the students while better serving the taxpayers.

Some fear that local school districts will seek to place students in other, cheaper schools. The Governor has emphasized competition throughout the budget, and principles of economics tell us that competition can lead to better services at a lower cost. Moreover, a level playing field may be helpful for the other schools.

Rhetoric will not help close our $10 billion budget gap, nor will it assure the right school for a child – state and federal special education laws do that. To have a meaningful debate on this issue and all the pressing questions facing the state, we need honest dialog.

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7 Comments

  1. New York Governor Cuomo’s proposal to eliminate state funded schools for the deaf and move Deaf students into public school districts does not make sense. Schools for the deaf offer an inclusive, language rich environment to Deaf students using American Sign Language, a visual language that is equally accessible, while public schools are disorganized and inconsistent in how they educate Deaf students. It will become more costly to close down the schools for the deaf rather than keeping them open. Furthermore, schools for the deaf in our country have been around since American School for the Deaf was first established in Hartford, Connecticut in 1817. The schools are valuable, historical centers of American Deaf culture and language. To shut them down is a domino effect of launching cultural genocide against the Deaf community and leaving the door wide open for corporations to take advantage of vulnerable parents and children. If it’s about saving New York state money, I believe Governor Cuomo is misinformed because the other motive is too dark.

  2. The figure of 93,000 per student is grossly inaccurate. A quick calculation with extremely generous allowances for salaries, benefits, buildings, maintenance, equipment and operating costs yields a figure of 67,000 per student. A more exact accounting probably would bring the actual cost closer to 45,000 per student, especially when equal items are compared across the board. This is similar to the cost of other special education systems.

    It is a gross oversimplification to say that eliminating the budget for 4201 schools and rolling them into other special education categories would save money. One must account for the extra costs to mainstream these students, retrofitting schools to take them, adding and duplicating specialized staff and auxiliary personnel, outfitting each classroom with hearing support systems and equipping each school with visual aids equipment, just to name a few. In many cases all this extra cost will benefit just one or a very few students in each school.

    One also must take into consideration the lawsuits that parents will file on behalf of their students if they do not obtain the optimium placement. Many in this community also feel so strongly that the 4201 schools best addresses their needs as a community for well-adjusted, employable and independent citizens that they will opt for homeschooling, charter schools and private schools, each with demands for equivalent state subsidies.

    This is a situation where the adage “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” truly applies. Grouping these kids together in specialized schools is more cost-effective as well as educationally best.

  3. Patricia A. Gibbs on

    I am a parent of a child who attends the New York School for the deaf in White Plaines. My child was diagnosis with his hearling loss at 2.5 years old. He is now six. The school for the Deaf in White Plaines has help my child so much and I fear that if the school was closed, he would regress, no he will regress. The school district where we live does not have the resources to give my child the tools he needs to do well in school, and like all schools they struggle with their on budget needs. Mr. Megna only sees $ and not the students and that is what he is whispering in the governor’s ears. I voted for the governor and I am very disappointed with him and his proposal. I thought he was a man or honor but I guess when it comes to educating children of the deaf and blind…and assuring that they are given every opportunity to succeed and yes even one day become the govenor or president the governor is heartless. Yes, this is a very emotionally response but my child deserve every opportunity he needs to succeed in life. Governor Cuomo, you are a huge disappointment.

  4. I agree with Dianrez. $93K per 4201 school pupil is inaccurate. it’s closer to $50K depending on the students’ needs. Now imagine a rural school district taking in a severely disabled student who lives on respiratory ventilator and feeding tube, the school district would have to hire a full time nurse (nowadays the nurse’s salary averages above $50K annually), having to pay a lot of bucks to make the school buildings to be more accessible, pay a teacher aide ($25K), etc. Plus the student would be more at risk for bullying, which would lead to lowered self-esteem, which would then impact the emotional being, leading to the less than desireable academic performance. The teachers might have no time, busy teaching the other 25 students. The student would then not be able to go to college, and might end up living off the state’s disability funds. By sending the student to the 4201 school, he/she would learn to become a productive citizen holding down a job and pay taxes.

    Dr. Mowl, the chairperson of 4201 School Association, made a better suggestion… treat the 4201 schools equally as other public schools… get 7% budget cut AND have the legislature set up a task force committee to discuss the facts of 4201 school system and to make recommendations based on the findings.

    Meanwhile, please sign the online petition:

    http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/save-ny-4201-school-funding/

  5. By placing 4201 schools under the category of Special Education, there’d be more due processes, lawsuits, etc. which would put more financial strain on already financial strapped school districts. Mainstreaming does NOT always work.

  6. From Deaf Professional on

    I read this letter to Gov. Cuomo written by my friend who is deaf professional and thought he is right on the nose, it is time to merge these 4201 schools for the deaf.

    Having read the enclosed commentary letter by Mr. Robert Megna in today’s paper, I would like to offer what I believe to be a viable solution. I think I understand the concept of competition as referred in Mr. Megna’s commentary letter, based on my corporate work experience.

    I support Mr. Megna’s budget proposal providing that his statement is true of which Cuomo’s executive budget proposal will not forced to close the 4201 schools. I can’t speak for schools for blind and severely physically disabled children since this is not my area of expertise. I am talking about those 10-plus schools for the deaf under 4201 (in addition to the NY State School for the Deaf in Rome, NY, which is not under 4201), in our state of New York.

    A couple points to ponder

    * Big states have a smaller number of schools for the deaf. California has two and Texas only has one.

    * Why aren’t the NY schools for the deaf administrated by the NY Department of Education?

    As you are aware, your budget proposal has upset the deaf community, parents of deaf students currently attending in one of the 4201 schools for the deaf, and others. That was before you wrote the commentary letter. I hope they’ll understand the proposal better after reading your commentary.

    You asked for honest dialogue. I am giving you my opinion, as a culturally-deaf person who grew up in residential school for the deaf:

    Schools for the deaf are very important for many deaf children; often that is the only environment in which they can succeed because mainstreamed programs in public schools are not suitable for all deaf children. I very much support to keep our schools for the deaf in New York. I do not know what the legislation is going to do about the 4201 budget as a result of the rally at the Capitol building on Thursday, March 10. I wasn’t there because I understand the ramification of the budget proposal as Mr. Megna clarified in his commentary letter.

    Now, talking about the word “competition”. I believe Mr. Megna was referring to the status quo in our NY deaf schools being not as good as in public schools. Even when we have these “too many” schools for the deaf, they do not compete against each other because they all depend on receiving the funds from the NY State government every year.

    Viable Solution:

    We should not close all of the NY schools for the deaf. However, please consider forming a task force to study the consolidation of all NY schools for the deaf under 4201 and the NY State School for the Deaf in Rome, NY, into two or three schools for the deaf. The consolidation of NY Schools for the Deaf would offer many benefits. Having fewer schools would not only reduce costs but increase benefits because having fewer schools would make possible more sports programs and honor programs, due to a larger number of deaf students going to fewer schools for the deaf. Today, the schools are spread out too thin; each school has fewer gifted deaf students because others go to different deaf schools and have reduced their sports programs due to fewer students attending.

    I ask that you please act quickly on the consolidation of the NY schools for the deaf because the results will promote an increased awareness of the advantages of consolidating deaf schools (that is, more programs and services available to the deaf student). School districts will realize that is cost-wise to send deaf children from their district to a state school for the deaf instead of setting up individual programs of the deaf. Of course, the bottom line, the decision of where deaf child should go would remain in the hands of the parents.

    From a friend