NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York City officials announced an expansion of seats for preschool students with special needs across all five boroughs on Tuesday.
Mayor Eric Adams said the Department of Education is keeping the current 3,000 seats available and adding 800 more seats by this spring across 65 early childhood providers.
Officials said previously, the early childhood education system did not have a strategic or intentional focus on serving young kids living with disabilities and their families. Their teachers and educators were also paid less than their general education peers.
The city is also increasing the school day from five to six hours to match students in general education.
Officials hope the move will help lessen the child care burden on parents.
"I know from personal experience what it's like not to have had the supports I needed to learn and thrive as child. For far too long, our young students living with disabilities have struggled in a system that hasn't been fully able to meet them where they are," Adams said. "Today, we're changing that. This expansion ensures not only that our youngest are provided the resources they need to succeed, but that the educators and caretakers who serve them are paid fairly and at a rate worthy of the life shaping the work they do. This investment is long overdue, and I'm so grateful to everyone who has worked tirelessly to make this a reality."
The mayor and chancellor credit the De Blasio administration with making 3-K and Pre-K happen, but say the flaw was that there were more seats in these programs than children who needed them in general education. But too few for those who needed special education.
"For all did not necessarily mean for all and I would hear over and over and over again from parents of children with special needs," Adams said. "They would say there's no room at the inn for us."
City officials say the special education contract enhancements will:
-Earmark $130 million for early childhood education special education providers over two years
-Align early childhood education special education programs with the city's 3-K and pre-K general education programs by extending the school day from five hours to six hours and 20 minutes and providing extended care and learning for children and support for working families
-Extend general early childhood education site supports such as professional development opportunities to early childhood education special education providers
-Increase access to services in the least restrictive environment by enabling providers to offer special class in an Integrated Setting classrooms
-Establish funding to help programs recruit, train, and retain staff to support special education seats across the early childhood education landscape
-Allocate funds for teacher and staff salaries in accordance with new services and lengthened school days
-Bring increased pay and pay parity to teaching staff in special education programs to match that of their peers in general education in 3-K and pre-K.
"For far too long, children with disabilities and their families have been overlooked by a system that was not built with them in mind. Our vision for early childhood education sees all children," said DOE Chancellor David Banks. "My team has particularly been focused on young children living with disabilities. We are deeply committed to establishing early childhood education that works for all New York City families - a truly accessible, high-quality, and sustainable program that equitably serves our children living with disabilities."