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Legislature passes Dinolfo's plan to boost preschool special ed rates


The Monroe County Legislature has unanimously approved legislation, submitted by County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, that will raise reimbursement rates for preschool special education providers by 15 percent. Dinolfo has emphasized that this is the first rate increase for preschool special education providers in a decade.

The Legislature voted on the proposal during its meeting Tuesday night. The provider contracts they approved through the legislation will be effective July 1.

“In a spirit of bipartisanship, we’ve ensured our talented local Preschool Special Education providers will be there for the children and families who need them for years to come," Dinolfo said in a press release sent out Tuesday night.

Federal and state governments require New York counties to provide Preschool Special Education services for children ages 3 to 5 who have confirmed developmental delays or disabilities. Service providers include speech therapists, occupational therapists, teachers for the blind and visually impaired, teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing, and many others.

In recent years, advocates and providers have warned that failure to increase reimbursement rates could cause the service providers to leave the field. Some services are already in short supply: the list of contracts approved by the Legislature shows only one  teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing for the entire county. And if rates get too low, those shortages could be exacerbated.

Low reimbursement rates are fueling a statewide crisis in county Early Intervention programs, which serve children up to 3 years old who have developmental delays or disabilities. The state controls those rates, and it hasn't raised them in almost two decades. Provider shortages slow down the intake process, and that means children have to wait, sometimes as long as a year, for needed services.

The recently passed state budget raises rates for some service providers by 5 percent. Some lawmakers pushed for a more expansive increase, but it didn't make it into the final plan. Providers, advocates, and parents say the state's increase isn't even close to what's needed to reverse the crisis.  In her press release, Dinolfo called on the state to "follow our lead by working together to fairly fund its Early Intervention program, just as we did here for Preschool Special Education."

Dinolfo is up for reelection this year and faces a challenge from Democratic County Clerk Adam Bello. There's good potential for the county's administration of Early Intervention and Preschool Special Education programs to become an election issue.

In March, when Dinolfo announced her legislation to increase the Preschool Special Education reimbursement rate, Bello responded by saying the proposal was welcome but not proactive, since people had been appearing before the Legislature asking for this change for several months.