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Controversial special education bill awaiting Governor’s attention

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Albany/HV: Controversial special education bill awaiting Governor’s attention
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A controversial bill aimed to help parents of special needs students is awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo's attention. Our Nick Reisman reports.

NEW YORK STATE -- On Governor Andrew Cuomo's desk is a measure that would give parents of special needs students greater ability to seek reimbursements from local public schools in order to send them to a private school. But opposition is growing to the bill, passed with little fanfare on the last day of the legislative session in June, with those against it claiming it ushers in a voucher program for New York.

“This bill would add so much cost to the special ed portion of this bill, particularly in New York City, that it would be unsustainable in this current fiscal budget year,” said Barbara Bartoletti, League of Women Voters Legislative Director.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in June defended the bill, saying it is aimed at helping parents with special needs children.

Silver said, “What this says is that their backgrounds and their home life and the best environment for them to learn should be taken into consideration.”

But opponents say research into special education says otherwise and that it may violate provisions of federal law.

“Special education students actually are most successful when they integrated into a setting with age appropriate peers and not when they're isolated,” said Time Kremer of the State School Boards Association.

But there's also a political dimension to this. The bill was written by an Orthodox Jewish group based in New York City and appears aimed at providing taxpayer-subsidized religious education. And then it was passed quickly by the Legislature with little debate.

Bartoletti said, “Although it had gone through the committee process it did not have any legislative hearings, any fiscal hearings, on the impact this piece of legislation would have on the state budget, on the special education budget.”
Cuomo has until August 1st to decide what he's going to do about the measure and administration officials say it remains under review.

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