The release of the 2011 Executive Budget on February 1, 2011, brought significant fiscal challenges to many organizations and institutions that have been supported by the State of New York.
For 11 specialized state-funded private schools serving more than 1,500 blind, deaf and severely disabled students in Erie, Monroe, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties, and in New York City, the recommendation to eliminate a direct state appropriation of approximately $98 million was a major crisis.
The existence of the 4201 schools, so known due to the section of the New York State Education Law establishing their mission, and their specialized programs for students with severe disabilities was threatened by the Governor’s budget proposal. Students, parents, teachers and advocates were extremely concerned that without state funding this vulnerable population of children would lose access to vital services as well as the ability to receive an appropriate education with the tools to build independent, meaningful and fulfilling lives.
Further, it was unclear if a new executive administration facing budget challenges of extraordinary proportions was aware of the problem or the collateral damage, let alone contemplating a solution to a recommendation advanced as a significant step toward eliminating a gaping structural deficit.
Corning Place Communications and its government affairs partner, Hinman Straub, were retained by the 4201 Schools Association. Together we set to work on a 60-day integrated plan that was designed to elevate the awareness of the complex issue to senior state decision makers, seek restoration of funding by the Legislature and the approval of the Governor by the start of the state fiscal year – April 1.
Corning Place designed a communication and media relations strategy for the schools serving the blind, deaf and disabled stemming from a powerful message: We Will Be Seen, We Will Be Heard, We Will Take a Stand.
Beginning immediately, Corning Place was successful in achieving earned media placements in a series of newspaper articles in the daily newspapers; secured broadcast segments in every television and radio market in the state; appealing to ethnic cable outlets and popular publications in the Latino and African American community.
Corning Place also planned a massive rally involving more than 1,000 participants that spilled out of the Legislative Office Building and into the streets surrounding the Capitol.
In late March, as the budget deadline approached, well informed Senate and Assembly members realized that while the public was indeed supportive of reducing state spending, a proposal that targeted the schools teaching Braille, American Sign Language, and adaptive accomplishment was unacceptable. Both houses advanced recommendations for restoration and Governor Andrew Cuomo concurred.
Indeed, the state’s blind, deaf and severely disabled were seen, heard and took a stand!