A Tale of Two Educators: Union Vs. Non-Union

Thursday, 23 Jun 2011 07:15 AM

By Jacob Wolinsky

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New York recently passed massive budget cuts. Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York made cuts that guaranteed that his support wasn't affected.

The pundits say everyone opposes cuts that affect them personally. However, the cuts that Cuomo made appear even to neutral observers to be ill-conceived.

A very close family member of mine is a speech therapist for children (early intervention-EI) and works for a private agency. Most of the budget is funded by New York State at no cost to the client.

Part of Andrew Cuomo’s budget involved huge cuts to early intervention therapy agencies. My relative’s former firm shut every office, except in one location.

I asked my relative what percentage of children who qualify for EI services truly need the service. She estimated around 90 percent of kids who qualify for the service need it.

The biggest cuts in EI will affect special education. Most of the kids who need speech therapy also need special education, so my relative knows this area quite well.

Since Cuomo made approximately $70 million in cuts (or approximately 30 percent) to EI, many of these kids will not get EI and end up needing to attend special education programs in school when they are older. Ignoring the tragedy, being that these kids will not get the treatment they deserve, the cuts will end up costing the state more, as almost all these children will end up in special ed programs in elementary school.

In 2005, it cost New York $5.5 billion a year on special education. Each pupil in special ed cost the state $12,457 more than a regular pupil. One can only imagine how much the costs have ballooned in the past six years.

It was difficult to get exact statistics on the amount of students in special ed. However, in Pennsylvania where the population is far smaller than New York’s, over 81,000 children receive early intervention services.

In New York, children enrolled in special education cost the state about $30,000 a pupil; it only takes an increase of approximately 2,300 students to offset any “savings” in cuts to early intervention.

Since a massive percentage of students need EI special education perhaps 25 percent, the costs will likely be far higher just for year one, ignoring future years as more of these children enter the school system.

The salary of therapists working in early intervention has not gone up in 17 years in New York. So why did Cuomo cut the funding to EI therapists? Because, unlike the teacher unions, they do not have the money or the votes that Cuomo seeks.

By contrast, the education budget (meaning teacher unions) is planned for $22 billion for 2011-2012, a 13.5 percent increase. Just to demonstrate the power the teachers unions have, the NYC teachers union spent $1 million for a one-day ad attacking Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The example provided is just one of many typical "kick the can down the road and reward the all-powerful unions" mindset, since the unions will be providing a lot of money and votes for Cuomo’s budget.

The therapists who serve a similar role (but work all year, and do not get the perks of the teacher unions) are left on the sidelines to fend for themselves since they do not have the same political clout.

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