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Meeting of the Board of Regents | March 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010 - 11:40pm

sed seal                                                                                                 




VESID Committee


Rebecca Cort  


VESID Budget and Staffing Concerns


February 22, 2010


Goals 1 and 2






Issue for Discussion

Impact of the current fiscal climate on the Department’s work to implement the requirements of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).


Reason(s) for Consideration

              For information.

Proposed Handling

              This item will come before the VESID Committee at its March 2010 meeting for discussion.

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR)

Procedural History

The New York State Education Department (Department), 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.  VESID is responsible for providing vocational rehabilitation services to individuals with disabilities to assist them in entering, returning or maintaining employment. In this capacity, VESID, using Section 110 federal funds authorized through the Rehabilitation Act, employs more than 750 staff members at 15 district offices and 10 satellite offices.  Using both the federal funds and State Case Service and Supported Employment funds, Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) staff provide direct VR services to more than 65,000 New Yorkers with disabilities each year.  VR consumers 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.  

Background Information

Over the past two years approximately 80 VR positions have been vacated. In addition, the VR workforce is aging, with all current leadership, managers, many front- line counselors and other staff able to retire now or within the next two to three years.  It is estimated that VR will need 100 Vocational Counselors over the course of the next five years to fill vacancies created by retirement and promotional opportunities. This number does not include leadership and supervisory and support staff, which are needed as well. Currently key leadership positions, specifically Regional Coordinators in New York City and Western NY are vacant. Due to the limited ability to backfill positions, VR is faced with the real possibility of not being able to adequately meet the vocational needs of the consumer population in New York State. 

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 current data, under an Order of Selection approximately 40 percent of individuals who are now served by VESID would have been placed on a waiting list upon the determination of eligibility. While we would not interrupt services to those already determined eligible, within the first year of implementation, the waiting list for VR services could grow to more than 15,000 individuals. 

 The implementation of an Order of Selection will have a negative effect on thousands of individuals who VESID is now serving at a time when other programs are also cutting back on employment services.  This will leave these individuals with no VR support for pursuing employment and will serve to reinforce dependence on public benefits.  For example, last year VESID was actively serving almost 27,000 youth.  Under an order of selection, we would have had to put about 10,000 of these youth on a waiting list for services since they do not have a most significant disability. These are individuals who need assistance to obtain employment.  Upon leaving school, there are not sufficient alternatives to the VR Program that can serve these individuals.

A portion of the VR program is supported by State case service and supported employment allocations.  The budget reductions recommended in the Executive Budget proposal will not directly affect the VR program, for which level funding was recommended.    However, the VR program is being impacted by a number of other factors including:


  • No cost of living adjustment for federal funds will be provided in the next federal fiscal year because economic data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show a decline (-0.2%) in the annual Consumer Price Index.  The VR program had previously received a 2 or 3 percent increase each year.
  • VESID is quickly depleting its available federal carryover funds through increased rates for services, the cost of special initiatives, and the increase in numbers of consumers.  Although the cost of special initiatives will end, the costs associated with the increase in rates and in the numbers of consumers that the initiatives created will still remain.
  • The one-time nature of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds of $21 million were awarded to the Department’s VR program.  We anticipate using between $14 million and $15 million this year (October 1, 2009- September 30, 2010) and the remainder during the next year. 



If all those seeking VR services cannot be served due to inadequate fiscal or staff resources, an Order of Selection will need to be considered.  To ensure that adequate financial resources will be available, special initiatives cannot be continued, the broad range of services may be reduced, certain policy changes are being considered and implemented, spending trends are being reviewed and adjustments made where appropriate, contracts receive extensive monitoring, no rate increases can be considered, and cost savings are being identified wherever possible.  Even with these actions, the VR program might be faced with inadequate fiscal resources in the coming years.  At the same time, it is imperative that we fill current and future vacancies in order to provide the services that our fiscal resources allow within required timeframes. 

Special Education

Procedural History

New York State (NYS) receives an annual allocation of Part B IDEA funds.  The State uses a portion of these funds for the purpose of administering Part B of the Act to provide, through IDEA discretionary funds, targeted technical assistance to other programs that provide services to children with disabilities.  By formula, the State provides the remaining funds of its allocation through subgrants to local educational agencies (LEAs). 

The VESID Special Education Office is funded by federal IDEA dollars.  IDEA funds also support staff and functions in other Department offices that are directly related to special education.  As a condition of receipt of IDEA funds, the State must meet its general supervisory and accountability requirements under IDEA.


Background Information

                Over the past several years, the VESID Special Education Office has realigned its staff resources and strategically redesigned its technical assistance and school improvement activities to meet new and challenging federal requirements and to achieve quality instruction and significantly improve results for students with disabilities.  We have moved to support activities that work and end those that do not.  We measure what works to the greatest extent possible based on outcome.  Each year, we see improved results as measured and reported in the State’s Annual Performance Report (APR). 

                However, we face challenges to continue this focus and to meet our mandated responsibilities.  Many of the staff in the special education office have been employed since the 1980s and early 1990s as the federal laws regarding students with disabilities evolved.  This means that our current employees have extensive expertise and experience.  As our workforce has diminished, effectively managing our mandated work has become increasingly difficult.  While we have been able to bring some new employees to State service over the last few years, we foresee, with pending retirements, loss of staff in key knowledge areas and key management and supervisory positions.  When staff leave, often long periods of time elapse before new employees are hired or vacant positions are left unfilled.  As a result, succession planning is difficult.  We are, in the current fiscal climate, concerned that the tenuous balance between resources and responsibilities will shortly become a major issue for this Office.  We currently have vacant key management positions and in the next several months, we will lose three additional supervisors to retirement.  Within the next five years, we expect to lose approximately 25 professional staff (23 percent of our special education workforce) to retirement. 

                Essential and mandated functions require a certain level of staff resources and knowledge and expertise to ensure compliance with all federal special education laws and regulations; to monitor all public and private schools serving students with disabilities; to administer dispute resolution systems (mediation, impartial hearings, State complaint processes); and to ensure targeted improvement and technical assistance activities and, if necessary, sanctions to improve results and compliance for students with disabilities. 

                We have made strategic decisions to focus the use of the State’s IDEA discretionary dollars on essential functions to meet our mission.  With the continuing demands for the use of these dollars for allocations designated within the State budget and to meet broadening mandates in P-12 such as additional assessments, fiscal accountability, data collection and reporting, we have reached the limit of further availability of these funds.  Without an increase in the federal IDEA allocation available for discretionary projects, there is a serious risk for reduction or elimination in the years ahead of some current projects supporting technical assistance to districts and parents.


                The Department is widely recognized as having a leadership role among states in the field of special education.  Our work for students with disabilities must continue to provide advocacy for the needs of this subgroup of students, particularly in this climate of fiscal challenge.  We must accelerate, and not diminish, the essential supports needed to improve results for students with disabilities.  The scope of responsibilities of the VESID Special Education Office is complex, expansive and nondiscretionary.  It is staff intensive, costly and high risk to manage.  Therefore, it is imperative that we maintain the necessary staff resources and expertise to meet the challenges of our responsibilities and ensure continued receipt of federal IDEA funds to New York State.