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Posted on: December 4, 2015

[ARCHIVED] Comptroller Maragos: $100M Preschool Special Ed. Program Needs Improvement

Mineola, NY- Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos released a report titled “Opportunities for Improving Preschool Special Education Outcomes for Nassau County Children.” The report finds that Nassau school districts lag New York State (NYS) in placing three and four-year-old special needs children in optimal learning settings. Federal guidelines indicate that preschool students with special needs can benefit most when taught in integrated early childhood settings alongside typically developing, age-appropriate peers. Only one Nassau school district exceeded the NYS average for placing children in integrated settings. Nevertheless, our special needs children still achieve average developmental benefits. In 2014, Nassau County served 5,249 three and four-year-old special needs children at a total cost of $100.7 million. The average cost per student was $19,186, but private center-based programs charge as much as $52,000 per child.

“Nassau school districts pride themselves on being some of the best in the country for K-12 learning,” Comptroller Maragos said. “The same, however, cannot be said for our special needs children. We should aim for better than average results for ALL of our children.”

The data available indicates that Nassau County school districts underperform the NYS average with respect to placing students in integrated settings. Less than one in four Nassau preschool special education students (22%) attended a regular or integrated preschool class from 2011-2012 through 2013-2014, compared to 43% of students across New York State and 42% of students nationwide. Within the County, placement results vary dramatically from district to district. At the low and high extremes, East Meadow school district placed 3% of special needs students and Island Park placed 49% of special needs students in regular or integrated preschool classes. Despite Nassau’s below-average integration rates, special needs students reach the NYS average for skill development. Countywide, more than 50% of Nassau County’s students reached age-appropriate development in any of the three main skill categories by the time they finished preschool.

State and local school administrators surmise that low integration rates may be due to the lack of availability of classes where children with special needs can learn alongside typically developing peers, and to parents’ and administrators’ belief that the more intensive instruction provided in separate classes is more beneficial for many children. Integration also appears to be impeded by the NYS Education Department’s lack of regular feedback to districts on the merits of integration and to lagging districts on their performance compared to their peers.

The report acknowledges recent increased awareness of the lagging integration results by our school districts and recommends that the Nassau County Department of Health take a greater leadership role. It may be helpful for the Department of Health to track the annual performance of all Nassau school districts rather than rely on belated NYS sampling and to increase the focus of its annual conference to explore policies that:

1. Help districts understand their relative performance in educating special needs children in order to motivate increased use of integrated placements where warranted.
2. Expand the availability of integrated settings for preschool students by expanding the number of universal pre-kindergarten classes, similar to New York City.3. Raise parents’ and administrators’ awareness of the benefits of integration for children with special needs.
4. Raise awareness that money is available per preschool special education student to incentivize school districts’ becoming certified special class providers.

“I encourage a renewed focus on the education of our preschool children with special needs,” said Comptroller Maragos. “Increased collaboration with parents, educators, administrators and the County Department of Health can produce increased integration and higher than average outcomes for our special needs children.”

Preschool Special Education Final

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