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By Bernadette Kappen, Debra Arles and Rebecca Renshaw

Last year, Gov. Hochul and representatives in the state Legislature, including our champions from right here in the Bronx, provided a critical increase in funding needed for our schools. The New York Institute for Special Education, St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf and Lavelle School for the Blind are all members of the 4201 Schools Association, which represents 11 schools across the state serving children who are blind, deaf and severely physically disabled.

4201 schools are unique. The specialized, comprehensive and communication-rich education that’s offered at our schools is unmatched. We partner with public school districts to ensure that children with low-incidence disabilities are able to learn in a specialized environment that addresses their individual academic and related service needs. Our children deserve every opportunity available to students attending public schools, and the specially trained and certified teachers and staff at our schools are the reason our students are successful. In fact, our teachers are required to be dually certified in their subject area, for example, as both a special education teacher and a certified teacher of the deaf or blind. Students also have access to occupational therapists, speech pathologists, physical therapists and certified orientation and mobility specialists. These are all highly trained professionals providing individualized services.

Public school teachers and support staff are paid significantly more than what our 4201 schools can afford, so the resources allocated to 4201 schools in the state budget year over year are critical to retaining these staff. On top of that, most of our schools have been around for more than 100 years. We are constantly working to upgrade infrastructure and invest in the longevity of our buildings and campuses because we are committed to providing a high-quality education in a safe and healthy environment for our students and staff.

In the 2023-2024 state budget, public schools received the largest increase in history; however, it’s important to note that the 4201 schools are not included in these annual increases. This is why the state’s continued direct support of and investment in our 4201 schools is so important.

We are incredibly grateful for the governor and Legislature’s commitment to our teachers, students and their families, and the increase included in the final enacted 2023-2024 state budget. And, we recognize our legislators taking every opportunity to express their support for us throughout the course of last year’s budget process.

As we give thanks this holiday season and express gratitude to our leaders for their ongoing support, we look forward to continuing to work with our partners in state government in 2024. We invite our elected officials to visit 4201 schools and meet the students in our classrooms and the specially trained teachers who are molding the next generation of New Yorkers. We must collectively ensure that our students, and the staff and teachers who support them every day, have access to the resources they need to be successful in the classroom and beyond. Our children are depending on us.

Bernadette Kappen, Debra Arles and Rebecca Renshaw are the executive directors of the New York Institute for Special Education, St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf and Lavelle School for the Blind, respectively.