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Press Releases

11.16.2023 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the release of the City’s November Financial Plan: 

While we are still awaiting details of the cuts proposed today, one thing is already clear: it is simply not possible to reduce New York City Public Schools (NYCPS) spending by the magnitude laid out in the November Plan (more than $500 million) without negative consequences for students, schools, and families. 

We have already seen the impact of the City’s blanket hiring and spending freezes on students with the greatest needs. For example:

  • The NYCPS Students in Temporary Housing office has been unable to bring onboard 15 temporary staff to assist students in shelter – staff they are planning to fund through time-limited federal dollars that cannot be repurposed and must be used to support the education of students who are homeless or returned to Washington DC next fall. Meanwhile, students have been placed in more than 100 new shelters with no NYCPS staff to assist them in getting school placements or transportation.

  • We have had calls concerning preschoolers in the Bronx experiencing long delays in getting special education evaluations and services because the blanket hiring freeze has left Committees on Preschool Special Education short-staffed when existing employees have left their roles and not been replaced. 

We are particularly concerned that these budget plans will result in even more egregious violations of the rights of students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and students in temporary housing or foster care. The City must ensure its choices do not impede its ability to uphold students’ rights and comply with federal and state law.

Beyond legal mandates, sweeping cuts to public education are the definition of penny-wise and pound-foolish. A failure to invest in our young people puts the City at risk for both increased social service expenditures as well as decreased tax revenue down the road. 

The cuts announced today are especially concerning given the looming expiration of federal COVID-19 stimulus funds, which are supporting many critical education initiatives—from school social workers to 3-K and preschool special education to shelter-based coordinators to community schools—that will still be just as needed when federal dollars run dry in less than a year. We need our elected leaders to figure out how to sustain these programs and limit the budgetary fallout on our most marginalized students—not to start cutting needed programs now.

Read the statement as a PDF

11.13.2023 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the release of the recommendations of the New York State Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures: 

We thank the Board of Regents and the State Education Department (SED) for their commitment to creating a more equitable graduation framework for New York’s students and for providing AFC staff the opportunity to serve as a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission. While we are still reviewing the full report, we are pleased to see recommendations that New York modify diploma assessment requirements to allow students to demonstrate competence in multiple ways through options that meet the needs of all learners, promote performance-based assessments (PBAs), and ensure access to Career and Technical Education (CTE). As these recommendations move forward, it will be essential to ensure that all students, including students with disabilities and English Language Learners, have meaningful access to the full range of options and pathways being advanced. 

Reducing or modifying exit exam requirements and allowing students to demonstrate competence in multiple ways would be an important step in the right direction—and we continue to advocate for New York to follow the lead of states around the nation and fully decouple Regents exams from graduation requirements. As SED’s own literature review concluded, exit exams like the Regents are “not positively associated with any college or career outcomes,” and New York is one of only eight states that still maintains such a policy. There is no evidence that exit exams increase academic rigor or boost student learning, and they have been shown to increase drop-out rates, particularly for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. At AFC, we have seen this outcome firsthand: we have worked with far too many students who had the deck stacked against them, yet persevered and completed their coursework and were prepared to move on to post-secondary life—only to be blocked from a high school diploma because of a single high-stakes exam. 

We look forward to working with the Board of Regents and SED to build upon these recommendations and revise New York’s graduation framework to meet the needs of the current era.

View the press statement as a PDF

thumbnail image of first page of data brief11.01.2023 | Data released today by Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) show that 119,320 New York City students—roughly one in nine—experienced homelessness during the 2022–23 school year. While the recent increase in the number of immigrant families arriving in New York City has brought greater public attention to the issue, student homelessness is not a new phenomenon: 2022–23 marked the eighth consecutive year in which more than 100,000 public school students were identified as homeless. 

The new data, obtained from the New York State Education Department by AFC, show that, of the more than 119,000 students in temporary housing last year, 40,840 (34%) spent time living in City shelters; more than 72,500 (61%) were “doubled up,” or temporarily sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing or economic hardship; and about 5,900 were living in hotels or motels, unsheltered, or otherwise lacking a regular and adequate nighttime residence. While the number and percentage of students without permanent housing rose across all five boroughs, relative to the 2021–22 school year, the highest rate of student homelessness continued to be in the Bronx, where approximately one in every six students was homeless in 2022–23. Districts 4 (East Harlem) and 23 (Brownsville) also had notable concentrations; in both districts, about one in ten students spent time in shelter last year.

first page of educational indicators briefStudents who are homeless, and especially those living in shelter, face tremendous obstacles to success in school. For example, in 2021–22 (the most recent year for which data are available), students living in shelter dropped out of high school at more than three times the rate of their permanently housed peers, only 22% of those in grades 3–8 reached proficiency on the State English Language Arts (ELA) exam, and 72% were chronically absent, meaning they missed at least one out of every ten school days.

Yet, services that have been put in place to help support these students are under threat, and the situation is becoming more dire as the supports that do exist are stretched thin. 

Last year, to help resolve barriers to school attendance and improve educational outcomes for students experiencing homelessness, New York City Public Schools (NYCPS) hired 100 Community Coordinators to work on the ground in shelters. These Coordinators have helped students and families in shelter connect with needed educational services and supports, including helping newly arrived immigrant students enroll in school. However, the Coordinators were hired using temporary funds that will run out in less than a year, and the City has put forward no plan for ensuring the continuity of the position.  

“No child in New York City should be homeless, but until we reach that goal, access to a quality education is our best possible tool for ensuring those living in shelter don’t re-enter the system as adults,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “Losing the shelter-based Community Coordinators would almost certainly increase the already sky-high rates of chronic absenteeism and make it even more difficult for students in shelter to succeed in school. The City should be increasing shelter-based public school staff to meet the tremendous need—and at the very least needs a plan to sustain these critical positions.”

Meanwhile, more than one hundred new shelters have opened without any new NYCPS staff to support them. To help meet the need, NYCPS is ready to onboard more than a dozen temporary staff using federal funding that can only be used to support students in temporary housing and must be returned to Washington if not used by next October. However, the City has not yet given the approval for these staff to start due to new budgeting and hiring restrictions. 

This holdup is particularly problematic given the City’s new policy of using 28-day hotel placements and limiting shelter stays to 60 days for certain newcomer families, which will cause unnecessary disruption in children’s education—especially with insufficient NYCPS staff to help families navigate their school options and arrange for transportation. 

“While students who move to a new shelter placement have the right to stay in their original school, we know from our experience working with families that this is often a right in name only,” said Jennifer Pringle, director of AFC’s Learners in Temporary Housing project. “Between delays in arranging busing, a shortage of bus drivers, unreasonably long commute times, and other obstacles, parents often feel they have no choice but to uproot their children from schools they love when they move shelters. It’s absurd that the City hasn’t given the green light to onboard staff who are already paid for with time-limited federal funds and who can help support students and families.” 

View the press release as a PDF
View the data on students experiencing homelessness in 2022-2023 [PDF]
Read the brief on educational indicators for students experiencing homelessness 2021-22 [PDF]

11.01.2023 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the release of the New York City Public Schools’ (NYCPS) proposed FY 2025–2029 Five-Year Capital Plan

More than 30 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), students, parents, educators, and other New Yorkers with physical disabilities continue to be excluded from the majority of New York City’s public school buildings. Creating accessible schools is an important priority that requires sustained commitment and resources. 

New York City’s 2020–2024 Capital Plan made a $750 million down payment towards the ultimate goal of full accessibility in our schools. But given the decades of inadequate attention that preceded this investment, nearly two-thirds of City schools will still not be fully accessible by the time the construction funded by the current Capital Plan is complete. While we are encouraged to see a continued commitment of $800 million in NYCPS’ proposed capital spending for 2025–2029, in practical terms, $800 million would represent a decrease in the City’s financial commitment to accessibility. Given inflation and rising construction costs, maintaining the slow but steady rate of progress seen in recent years requires a commensurate increase in funding. 

In August, AFC called on New York City to allocate $1.25 billion for school accessibility projects in the next Capital Plan, with the goal of bringing at least 50% of buildings that serve as the primary location for a school to full accessibility by 2029. This work is too important — and too long overdue — for the City to fall further behind. New York City must stand firm on its commitment to improving school accessibility. Children who were born the year the ADA was signed into law are now parents themselves; it is not acceptable to postpone compliance with this landmark civil rights law for yet another generation.

Read the statement as a PDF

10.13.2023 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the anticipated announcement that New York City will limit shelter stays to 60 days for newcomer families: 

The City’s reported decision to limit shelter stays to 60 days for newcomer families will be extraordinarily destabilizing for students, families, and school communities. Newcomer families already faced significant delays getting their children enrolled at the start of the school year. Now, just as students are settling into new classrooms in a new country, their families will have to navigate whether to stay in the same school or switch schools closer to the new shelter placement. Either option will likely result in massive disruption to students’ education, whether due to delays in arranging transportation, unworkably long commute times, or being forced to start over yet again with new teachers, new classmates, and a new curriculum. We call on the City to reconsider this destructive policy and put children first, so that all children, including our newest students, have a bright start and bold future.

View statement as a PDF

10.05.2023 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the New York City Council’s passage of Intro 857-A, expanding disaggregated data in New York City Public Schools (NYCPS) reporting to include metrics on students in foster care: 

AFC thanks the New York City Council for passing Intro 857-A, amending existing public school reporting requirements to provide data on students in foster care. We are especially grateful to Council Member Rita Joseph, Chair of the Committee on Education, and her staff for championing this legislation and getting it across the finish line.

Youth in the foster system face significant educational challenges: they are more likely to be suspended from school, are over-represented in segregated special education settings, and drop out of high school at more than quadruple the Citywide rate. For far too long, data showing these disparities have been hidden from public view — and the unique needs of students in foster care have been overlooked. Publicly reporting data on this population will shine a light on inequities and, most critically, help policymakers develop targeted solutions that ensure students in the foster system receive the support they need and deserve.

View the statement as a PDF

09.26.2023 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and Morrison & Foerster LLP filed a complaint in federal court against the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) and the New York City Department of Education (DOE) on behalf of a young child, R.A., who was not provided the critical services she was entitled to receive from DOHMH’s Early Intervention program for infants and toddlers with disabilities. When R.A.’s family requested compensatory services to make up for the services that were never provided, DOHMH claimed they had no obligation to provide these services – although they had failed for seven months to deliver the mandated support R.A. needed to make progress – because she had aged out of the program when she turned three years old, and was therefore no longer eligible.

R.A. was originally found eligible for services through the federally mandated Early Intervention program when she was a toddler. R.A. has Autism, has limited communication skills and has significant delays across all areas of development. DOHMH, the city agency that runs the Early Intervention program, agreed that R.A. needed a series of intensive services and created a plan for DOHMH to provide the services in her home. However, over the next seven months, R.A. never received her mandated speech therapy or occupational therapy services and only received a fraction of the behavioral therapy she had a right to receive.

“When our pediatrician told us about the Early Intervention program, we were very eager to get R.A. services,” said her mother. “We thought this program would be exactly what she needed to catch up to other children her age. But the entire process has been a challenge. We tried so many times to get her the services she needed but it didn’t make a difference. Without those services, she fell even more behind.”

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) establishes a right to services for children with disabilities from birth to 21. In New York City, IDEA services for children from birth to three are provided by DOHMH; IDEA services for children three to 21 are provided by the DOE. When either of these agencies fails to provide mandated services, the law requires that the agency provide “compensatory services” to make up for the education and therapies that the student lost.  However, in R.A.’s case, neither DOHMH nor DOE is accepting responsibility for providing the make-up services, leaving her without a means to acquire the fundamental skills that she needs to learn and progress.

“The finger pointing between DOHMH and DOE is causing further harm to the family, who simply wants the services their daughter needs and is entitled to receive,” said Betty Baez Melo, the Director of AFC’s Early Childhood Education Project. “We know that fewer than half of NYC’s children are getting their Early Intervention services on time. This case is not just about enforcing R.A.’s right to services; it’s about holding DOHMH and the DOE accountable so more young children aren’t left without the services they need and have a right to receive.”

“The DOHMH’s position amounts to saying that if they can just play keep-away with a 2 ½ year old until their third birthday, then their obligations under the statute magically disappear. That’s awful policy, but it’s also bad law. R.A. deserves better, and that’s what this lawsuit aims to provide her,” said Morrison & Foerster LLP Partner Michael B. Miller.

Read the press release as a PDF
View the federal complaint

Cover image of interactive report, Access Still Denied08.23.2023 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) is releasing a new report, Access (Still) Denied: An Update on the Physical Inaccessibility of NYC Public Schools, finding that only 31.1% of schools are fully accessible to students, parents, educators, and community members with physical disabilities as of the start of the 2023-24 school year. The interactive report, which features a map that allows readers to explore the accessibility status of all school buildings operated by the Department of Education (DOE), calls on the City to invest $1.25 billion—roughly 5-6% of its capital budget—in the forthcoming five-year Capital Plan to improve school accessibility.

The current five-year Capital Plan, now in its final year, allocated $750 million for school accessibility projects. Access (Still) Denied updates AFC’s 2018 analysis of DOE data, highlighting both the progress that has been made thanks to this long-overdue investment, as well as how far New York City has yet to go to fulfill the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The report finds:

  • Once the projects funded by the current Capital Plan are completed, just over one-third of schools will be fully accessible—meaning that, more than three decades after the ADA went into effect, nearly two-thirds of schools will not be fully accessible.

  • 38.8% of DOE schools are fully or functionally inaccessible (meaning they have no accessible classrooms and are thus not a true educational option for an individual who uses a wheelchair) and are not slated for accessibility-related upgrades under the 2020-2024 Capital Plan.

  • At least one-third of schools are fully accessible in eleven of the City’s 32 community school districts; once the accessibility projects currently in the pipeline are completed, as many as five additional districts will reach the 33% benchmark, and no district will fall below 10% full accessibility. This represents a significant improvement since 2018, when there were only four districts in which a third of schools were fully accessible, and one district had no accessible schools at all.

The ADA requires state and local governments to ensure individuals with disabilities have equal access to public programs and services, including public education. Yet the persistence of physical barriers in so many schools means that New Yorkers with disabilities continue to be excluded from buildings that are central to public life—not only students who are barred from attending their neighborhood school or school of choice, but also teachers and school staff whose employment opportunities are constrained by the lack of accessible bathrooms and classrooms; parents and grandparents who are unable to attend parent/teacher conferences or see their children and grandchildren perform in concerts or school plays; and community members unable to rely on school buildings for shelter and safety during extreme weather events.

This November, the DOE will propose its capital spending for the next five years, and the report urges the City to allocate at least $1.25 billion for improving school accessibility. This funding will enable the City to bring another 150 to 200 buildings to full accessibility by 2029, at which point 50% of all buildings that serve as the primary location for a school will be accessible.

“No child should be turned away from a school because the facilities are not accessible,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York. “As we approach the 40th anniversary of the ADA in 2030, the City should set ambitious goals to ensure this landmark civil rights law has real meaning in the day-to-day lives of New Yorkers with disabilities. The next Capital Plan should build on the progress that has been made and move us closer to a system in which all schools are fully accessible.”

“For years, my family has felt the impact of the limited accessibility of the City’s public schools, which have excluded and marginalized my daughter,” said Yuvi Espino, whose daughter Mia now attends a special education non-public school, in large part due to the challenges of finding an accessible public school to meet Mia’s needs. “Mia hasn't been able to attend many events at her younger sister’s school, which has been very upsetting for Mia, her sister, and our whole family. We must keep working toward the goal that all NYC DOE schools be accessible not only to students, but to their families and communities.”

The report is available at bit.ly/AccessDenied2023.

07.19.2023 | Today, Judge Loretta A. Preska of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued an order in the class action, L.V. v. New York City Department of Education, compelling the New York City Department of Education to change its systems for complying with special education administrative orders. 

Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and pro bono co-counsel Milbank LLP filed the class action lawsuit in 2003, alleging that, after parents of children with disabilities received favorable orders in special education administrative hearings, the DOE was failing to implement the ordered remedies. The DOE settled the case in 2008, with the lawsuit ending if the DOE implemented most orders within 35 days. The DOE, however, failed to comply for more than a decade, and students continued to wait for ordered relief. 

"Families file hearings only as a last resort, after their child has already been denied the services or school placements they need to learn,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York. “To then wait months or years without ordered services or reimbursements adds insult to injury for students and their families, and in our experience can lead to further harm for the families.” 

At AFC and Milbank’s request, a Special Master was appointed in 2021 to investigate the DOE’s delays in implementation of hearing orders. In March 2022, the Special Master, David Irwin from Thru Consulting, issued his findings on the failures within the DOE’s hearing order implementation systems; the following year, the Special Master issued recommendations on DOE actions necessary for timely implementation of hearing orders. 

Today’s order by Judge Preska incorporates the changes to the DOE’s systems and internal structures that the Special Master recommended, and includes more than 41 required steps that the DOE must take with deadlines ranging from 2 months to a little over a year for the DOE to effect the changes.

Among other changes, the order requires the DOE to create a structure for parents to contact the DOE when their special education administrative hearing orders are not implemented, including a support hotline for order implementation; improve and build DOE technology systems for implementing hearing orders; and recruit and fund new staff to implement hearing orders.

“After enduring the lengthy and burdensome process of a hearing, families rightly expect their child will finally get the services they need—not months of stalling,” said Rebecca Shore, Director of Litigation at Advocates for Children of New York. “We are hopeful that Judge Preska’s order will mean students with disabilities finally receive the services that they need, at the time they are needed."

“AFC and Milbank have fought for decades to fix the Department of Education’s hearing order implementation system, and ultimately, secure vital services for all New York City students with disabilities,” said Jasper Perkins of Milbank LLP. “We cannot unwind decades of systemic failure, but we hope that the changes recommended by the special master’s report—and compelled by the court—will ensure no families endure the same neglect in the future.”

Read the press release as a PDF

06.26.2023 | Today, the Coalition for Multiple Pathways to a Diploma—a group of more than 80 advocacy organizations, educators, and families from across New York State—released a research brief, It’s Time to #RethinkRegents Exams, in advance of the upcoming meeting of the NYS Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures. As the Commission discusses how best to measure students’ readiness for post-secondary life and develops its recommendations, the Coalition is calling on the State to end the practice of requiring students to pass five Regents exams in order to graduate from high school. 

The new brief summarizes existing literature to show that the State’s current policy is not grounded in research, has not benefited New York’s students, and puts the state out of step with the rest of the nation. For example:

  • A number of studies have found that exit exams can increase high school dropout rates, especially for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.
  • There is no evidence that exit exams increase student achievement, raise the value of a high school diploma in the labor market, or convey other benefits to students who pass them; as a report commissioned by the State Education Department (SED) noted in 2022, exit exams are “not positively associated with any college or career outcomes.”
  • Rather than an impartial measure of student learning, standardized tests are an unreliable gauge of graduation-readiness. Research has found that factors as arbitrary as the weather can significantly affect a student’s performance on a Regents exam, while high school GPA is more strongly correlated with success in college than standardized test scores.
  • While exit exam requirements were once popular across the country, many states have reversed course in recent years, making New York one of just eight states that maintains such a policy.

“The role of the Regents exams has continually evolved and changed over the past 150 years,” said Sarah Part, Senior Policy Analyst at Advocates for Children of New York, the organization that coordinates the Coalition for Multiple Pathways. “We now know from research that exit exam policies like New York’s fail to improve the quality of teaching and learning—and risk causing significant harm to our students. It’s time for New York to once again rethink Regents exams and revise its graduation framework to meet the needs of the current era.”

Read the brief [PDF]
View the press release as a PDF