Fixing the Focus on Fraud in Preschool Special Education
ALBANY, N.Y. –"Punish the crooks, not the kids."
That's the rallying cry of parents and advocates worried about New York's preschool special education programs that are under an investigative microscope.
The state comptroller is pursuing operators of special education providers who are accused of wasting, misspending or pocketing money.
Advocates of preschool special education say finding fraud is fine. But, Kim Sweet , executive director of the group Advocates for Children of New York, says some new and proposed changes in the wake of the investigations could hinder the funding for services.
"We are concerned about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The opportunity to reach children when they're three and four is really very fleeting and if we squander it we're not going to be able to get it back."
Sweet says the state has put a moratorium on new programs and the expansion of existing ones. The result is children on waiting lists for services that help young children with developmental delays prepare for school.
Talina Jones of Syracuse says it would be a shame if children were deprived of services such as those that helped her eight-year-old son with Down syndrome progress in school.
"He goes to his elementary school in his community and he is not in a segregated setting. This is absolutely because of receiving preschool special education services."
Sweet says advocates have a six-point set of recommendations to protect the preschool special education program.
"It's very important to realize that this is not a failed program. There has been fraud that's been found. We have to deal with the fraud, we have to prevent future fraud, but we don't have to destroy the program."
The state spends $2 billion each year to provide special services and classroom instruction to 37,000 children with disabilities. In New York City, some audits of special education providers have led to arrests for felony fraud.