Confronting reports of skyrocketing costs and outright fraud in New York State’s preschool special education system, a group of companies that provide services to children with disabilities is calling for mandatory new audits, clearer regulations and a strict code of conduct with tough penalties for violators.
The preschool special education system, which serves 60,000 children annually, costs Albany and local governments more than $2 billion a year. It is far more expensive per child in New York than in other states, The New York Times reported in June. Yearly bills exceed $200,000 per child in some cases. New York City’s spending has nearly doubled in just six years.
Unlike other states, New York relies almost entirely on outside contractors to deliver services to 3- to 5-year-olds with physical, learning, developmental and other disabilities. One factor in the rising costs, The Times reported, is that limited oversight has been exploited by some of those contractors, including both nonprofit and for-profit companies.
Audits released this summer by the state comptroller’s office have highlighted contractors who looted millions from the program by giving employees no-show jobs or reimbursing themselves for things like luxury cars, out-of-state living expenses, weekend-home renovations or their children’s bedroom furniture. Two companies have been shut down in conjunction with the audits, and at least four contractors have been charged criminally.