I have been a proud NYC special education teacher since 2002. At the same time, I have to admit that we face untenable conditions. Currently, there are systemic shortages of time, resources, and staffing. Many of my colleagues and our students with special needs feel that they are not being heard or respected. We, the experts, are rarely called upon to inform decisions around school funding, policies that impact our students’ services, and the amount of paperwork we are required to complete. Piecemeal grievances and special education complaints are not enough to fix the root of the problem.
A major problem is the Fair Student Funding formula, implemented under Chancellor Joel Klein, which changed the way schools are funded. Instead of having a separate budget for staffing needs, based on salary scale and special education provider needs, we now have a formula which allocates funding per pupil. Students with IEPs come with 1.5x the amount. This does not prioritize staffing needs but puts schools in a complicated position of being incentivized to hire fewer people and those who are lower on the salary scale. So, instead of putting students’ needs first, there is immense pressure to keep within a lean production budget. Our current union leadership has maintained support of the funding formula, as well as mayoral control, which has kept us in a powerless state as educators. Currently, the largest expenditure is in special education lawsuits with the city spending in 2017, $244.1 million in private school tuition for special education services. This is unacceptable in the largest and one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Imagine if that amount of funding was provided to schools where we, the specialists who work directly and understand the needs of our students the most, had more democratic voice. Instead, our union leadership has supported a multi-million dollar special education racket on the backs of our neediest students. We cannot wait for those in power to gain the sensibilities required to put power back into the hands who can make things better for our students and our working conditions. We need a union that leads from those who are working in the schools, and that is why I am running for the position of V.P. of Special Education.
-Jia Lee, Teacher and UFT Chapter Leader at The Earth School