The city’s public school system will spend $205 million to expand programs for students with disabilities, Schools Chancellor David Banks said Thursday.

The money will go toward the Sensory Exploration, Education and Discovery pilot program, which provides students “sensory play” using special equipment like swings and trampolines. The education department will also expand the Path program, which offers more inclusive classrooms for students with emotional disabilities.

Banks said the city recently increased the number of inclusive programs for students with autism through the Autism Spectrum Disorders Nest programs. The new funding will also create a paid internship for high school students in special education to work with other kids, introducing them to careers in occupational, physical and speech therapy.

“Our students with disabilities and their families deserve schools that see them, that can meet their unique needs, and prepare them for bold futures,” Banks said.

Jenn Choi, an advocate with Special Support Services, said the new programming “sounds amazing,” but added that it needs to reach many more students. The Path program, for example, will serve students in seven classrooms total, while the SEED program will be expanding from 10 to 70 sites. There are more than 900,000 students attending some 1,600 schools in the city.

“We are racing against the clock,” Choi said. “I worry about the students who are leaving the system soon who have not had access to all these new programs. For those students, it’s just not fast enough.”

Approximately 20% of public school students receive some form of special education, but their test scores and graduation rates lag far behind their general education peers, and the pandemic appears to have widened the gap. City schools also have a poor track record of matching students with services. Many students with disabilities wait months or even years to get the services they are supposed to receive by law.

Banks also announced a new advisory council that will develop “a blueprint” for broader improvements to special education, with recommendations due at the end of the school year. The council will be composed of parents, experts and advocates – similar to the literacy advisory council recently convened by the administration.

“This new council presents tremendous opportunity to radically transform special education,” Banks said, adding that he wants to better serve students currently in the system and entice back those who have left. The city spent some $220 million last year on private school tuition for students whose families say they cannot be served by public schools.

“I want to meet their needs … right here,” Banks said. “That’s my goal.”

Several advocates said they were heartened by the administration’s emphasis on special education. “This is long overdue and I give this administration and this chancellor a lot of props,” said Lori Podvesker, director of disability and education policy for the group INCLUDEnyc.

She said she wants to see the school system elevate its standards for special education, as well as more academic and social integration between students with disabilities and their peers.

Maggie Moroff, senior special education policy coordinator at Advocates for Children NY, who is on the new council, said she appreciates the administration’s recognition that the city must drastically improve education for students with disabilities.

“It’s not just about delivery of services, it’s about quality,” she said.