As seen in Newsday online and in print on Friday, January 19, 2024: 

This time last year, New York’s schools serving children who are deaf, blind, or severely physically disabled were facing a proposed reduction in funding. The association representing the 11 state-supported 4201 schools was stunned to see a glaring omission of resources in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s 2023-2024 executive budget proposal.

Following a robust advocacy campaign, more than 100 meetings with elected officials and key staff, and an outpouring of support from legislators from all corners of the state and from Hochul, funding for our schools was restored. By the time the state budget was enacted, our schools ended up receiving an increase in funding, just like all other education sectors.

Now, Hochul’s 2024-2025 budget proposal has been released and we are pleased to see level funding. We’re also requesting the authority to retain a modest fund balance to allow our schools to prepare for unexpected costs, workforce challenges, and emergencies while adapting to student needs throughout the school year. Every other education sector in New York has this authority, and it would help us continue to put our students first and maintain fiscal stewardship of our operations.

Each of the state’s 4201 schools is unique. Cleary School for the Deaf, The Henry Viscardi School, and Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf, all located on Long Island, serve students from across New York City, the Hudson Valley, and Nassau and Suffolk counties. Student enrollment relies on referrals from public school districts to identify children in need of additional and specialized services. The comprehensive and least restrictive education that is offered at 4201 schools is unlike anything students would be able to receive in a traditional school setting. This is why we collaborate with public school districts to ensure students with low-incidence disabilities are granted the opportunity to learn in an environment that meets their academic, social, emotional, linguistic, and physical needs.

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, whose support is echoed throughout the State Legislature, has vowed to “ensure every school, regardless of ZIP code, receives adequate funding.”

Even Gov. Hochul recognized the mission and goals of our schools when she said during her State of the State address, “We’re giving children the resources they need to live full healthy successful lives” and “become the best version of themselves.” This is exactly what our 4201 schools are working to achieve every day. We appreciate her recognizing our commitment to the children we serve.

Our specially trained and certified teachers and support staff, in addition to occupational therapists, speech pathologists, physical therapists, social workers, guidance counselors, nurses, psychologists, and certified orientation and mobility specialists, all play an important role in our students’ success. Our children deserve the same opportunities available to those attending public schools, and our diverse teams of dedicated professionals help make that happen.

To retain these important team members, the state’s ongoing support and resources are necessary, including the authority to retain a fund balance. This would ensure our schools have the same authority that’s provided to all other education sectors. When it comes to fiscal stewardship, it is the best practice and the standard that is followed.

Heading into this legislative session, our schools, teachers, and most importantly our students and their families are feeling hopeful. It’s a new year, and with it comes new opportunities for our elected leaders to support the next generation of New Yorkers.

This guest essay reflects the views of Cleary School for the Deaf executive director Jacqueline Simms, The Henry Viscardi School head of school Angelo Zegarelli, and Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf executive director Bradley Porche.