Meeting of the Board of Regents | November 2008
THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT / THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK / ALBANY, NY 12234
Rebecca H. Cort
Impact of Hiring Freeze and Budget Reductions on VESID Capacity
October 30, 2008
Goals 3, 4, and 5
Issue for Discussion
How have the recent hiring freeze and budget reductions impacted capacity in VESID to accomplish critical Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and Special Education work?
Reason for Consideration
The item will come before the Regents VESID Committee for discussion at the November 2008 meeting.
Summary information for the Regents September meeting from Deputy Commissioner Theresa Savo provided an overview of the overall impact of the 10.35 percent reduction to the Department in State operation spending. The Chair of the VESID Committee requested that additional details be provided to VESID Committee members on the impact of the hiring freeze and budget reductions to VESID Operations.
VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION (VR)
Background Information - VR
The New York State Education Department (NYSED), through its Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID), is the designated State general vocational rehabilitation agency for individuals with disabilities under the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In this capacity, VESID, using Section 110 federal funds authorized through the Rehabilitation Act, employs more than 700 staff members at 15 regional offices who provide direct vocational rehabilitation services to more than 50,000 New Yorkers with disabilities each year. They include youth, veterans, injured workers, and individuals with physical, mental and developmental disabilities. Approximately 13,000 of these individuals are placed in jobs each year, with a combined annualized earning of more than $200 million resulting in an estimated $15 million savings in public assistance costs.
Vocational rehabilitation is a unique public program for developing human resources. The program enables individuals with disabilities to contribute to the economic vitality of their communities, realizing a significant return on investment of public dollars. VESID works closely with an extensive network of community rehabilitation programs, technical education programs, colleges and private employers to develop skills for career-oriented employment opportunities.
These opportunities are critical because the employment rate for people with disabilities in New York State is less than half the rate for people without disabilities. The 2006 American Community Survey (ACS) indicates that only 33.5 percent of working-age New Yorkers with disabilities are employed as compared to 77.9 percent of people without disabilities.
Priority work - VR
The Designing Our Future (DOF) plan, developed in 2003 and endorsed by the Regents, guides the priority work of VESID Central Office and the 15 VESID District Offices. The goal of DOF is to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of processes related to providing VR services and supports to eligible individuals with disabilities that ultimately result in greater employment outcomes.
An example of this priority work includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Partnering with other State agencies (DOL, State VA, OMR, OMH, OASAS, CBVH) to develop collaborative strategies to increase employment outcomes.
- Increasing the number of students with disabilities age 17 to 22 eligible for VESID.
- Increasing the number of college students with disabilities eligible for VESID.
- Implement VR Initiatives through partnerships such as the Model Transition Program and the CUNY LEADS project.
- Development of an automated Fiscal Management System.
- Strengthening VRC professional development.
- Expanding of the supply of well-trained VRC candidates.
- Increasing the number of VR providers to improve the available range of VR services and supports.
- Expanding of monitoring efforts.
With leadership and direction from the Regents and the Committee, this work is a priority for VESID and existing resources within the Central Office and District Offices are utilized to address staffing needs and budget reductions. However, the hiring freeze and budget reduction has a potential negative impact on VESID’s capacity to accomplish these critical activities.
Impact of Hiring Freeze -VR
The current hiring freeze will negatively impact the lives of individuals with disabilities who want to and can work when provided with the essential services provided by VESID and its network of community rehabilitation programs. Specifically, the potential effects of the hard hiring freeze include:
- A further decline in the already low employment rate for individuals with disabilities and an increase in the already high poverty rate (28.6%) of individuals with disabilities in New York State;
- Increased dependence on public assistance;
- Jeopardizing the staffing of the community rehabilitation programs which employ more than 30,000 individuals;
- Decreasing tax revenues generated by workers with disabilities; and,
- Potentially reducing federal funds for vocational rehabilitation if the State is unable to meet its obligations under the Rehabilitation Act.
If VESID District Office staffing levels cannot be sustained and all those seeking services cannot be served in a timely manner, an Order of Selection will need to be considered. The Rehabilitation Act requires that if VESID cannot serve all eligible individuals who apply for services due to fiscal constraints and/or insufficient staff, an Order of Selection must be used to determine the order in which individuals with disabilities will be provided services, with an emphasis on first serving the individuals with the most significant disabilities. Based on a review of available data, under an Order of Selection, approximately 40 percent or 20,000 individuals currently served by VESID may not be able to fully participate in the program.
Impact of Budget Reductions - VR
A portion of VESID is supported by State case service and supported employment allocations. The impact of the recent $2.7 million reduction in State case service dollars and the inability to restore $.9 million in supported employment funding will potentially result in the following:
- An inability to meet Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirements. As per the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, failure to maintain State effort results in a dollar for dollar federal penalty.
- Approximately 13,000 individuals with disabilities are placed in jobs each year, with a combined annualized earning of more than $200 million resulting in an estimated $15 million savings in public assistance costs. These outcomes may not be able to be sustained.
- For every dollar expended on individuals with disabilities and employment services, it is estimated that the State receives a $7 return*. The reduction in case service dollars, which are utilized to purchase employment services, will reduce the number of individuals with disabilities employed, thus reducing State revenue and increasing reliance on public assistance.
- A reduction in the broad range vocational services provided by VESID to youth, veterans, injured workers, and individuals with physical, mental and developmental disabilities. Services essential to enhancing health, safety, and economic security of individuals with disabilities would be jeopardized.
Background Information – Special Education
In addition to the P-16 Education: A Plan for Action, the mandated work of VESID Special Education Services is driven by federal requirements. These requirements include, but are not limited to:
- Demonstrate compliance with all federal special education laws and regulations;
- Monitoring of all public and private schools serving students with disabilities;
- Administering dispute resolution systems (mediation, impartial hearings, State complaint processes);and
- Ensure targeted improvement and technical assistance activities, and if necessary, sanctions, to improve results and compliance for students with disabilities.
Data Collection and Reporting:
- Annually collect and publicly report on an extensive amount of data relating to compliance and performance for students with disabilities.
- Distribute and expend federal funds consistent with federal law and regulation and its assurances provided to the U.S. Department of Education in the Part B Application for Federal Funds.
*Source: Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, Investing in America Fiscal Year 2007 Report
Impact of Hiring Freeze – Special Education
VESID has a growing number of vacancies in several areas. Some of these vacancies are unfulfilled Chapter 57 positions that were promised but we have never been able to fill.
VESID's organizational structure includes six regional SEQA Offices, whose primary responsibilities are to monitor school districts compliance with federal and State requirements relating to special education. They investigate and resolve State complaints within 60 calendar days; conduct in-depth monitoring reviews of school districts needing assistance or intervention; follow-up with school districts to ensure correction of noncompliance as soon as possible, but not later than one year; are often called upon to assist P-16 in its review of certain school districts (e.g., SURR reviews); and provide extensive telephone and face-to-face technical assistance to school districts and parents. As the attached map shows, each regional office services very large and/or heavily populated geographic regions. The majority of vacant professional positions are in the regional offices including 2 supervisors and 11 Regional Associates.
It will become increasingly difficult to meet the demands of the U.S. Department of Education for data collection and reporting in the Special Education Data Collection and Reporting Unit (SEDCAR) given current staffing levels. Because of the expertise needed for this type of work, it is difficult to reallocate existing staff to this function.
VESID, along with other offices in the Department, is also facing the retirement in the next few years of a significant number of its special education managers and professional staff with the potential to lose a wealth of experience and knowledge.
In addition, the effect of the reduced capacity for work in OMS and P-16 operations significantly impacts VESID's ability to complete its required work. VESID directly relies on direct support from such offices as the Office of Counsel; Rate Setting; State Aid; Facilities Planning and Contracts Management; the Office of Higher Education; and Office of Curriculum and Assessment.
Technical Assistance Resources – Special Education
VESID relies on its contractors to carry out work that it does not have the capacity or expertise within its own staff. As the State budget problems worsen the need to maximize the use of our discretionary funds becomes more critical. Without these projects, the State's ability to demonstrate it has expended its federal funds appropriately and in accordance with its approved State Performance Plan to provide quality school improvement support and technical assistance may be jeopardized.
- Continue to work with SED Office of Management Services and the Division of Budget to obtain waiver approval to fill our priority positions, all of which are funded through federal IDEA or Rehabilitation Act allocations.
- Research the possibility of obtaining a waiver from the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) that would enable us to avoid reductions in our Section 110 federal funding as a result of not meeting Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirements.
- Monitor our changing capacity and re-align resources wherever possible to priority responsibilities.
It is recommended that the Regents continue to support filling positions that are federally funded.