New York State Board of Regents’ Regulation Requires Private Schools to Provide Education ‘Substantially Equivalent’ to Government Schools

A new regulation announced by the New York State Board of Regents requires all of the state’s 1,800 private and religious schools to provide an education that is “substantially equivalent” to that offered by public, government-run schools.

The Board of Regents passed the new regulation last week unanimously and without debate, as reported on WABC’s Eyewitness News 7.

A memo sent by the State Education Department on September 1 regarding the issue noted the department “received over 350,000” public comments on the proposed regulation.

“Many comments were supportive of the proposed rule, noting that the regulation is necessary to ensure children receive the instruction to which they are entitled to under the law,” the department said, but added:

However, the vast majority of comments expressed philosophical opposition to State regulation of non-public schools. As indicated above, this obligation is imposed by statute and has been upheld by numerous federal and State courts. See, e.g., Blackwelder v. Safnauer, 689 F Supp 106, 143 [ND NY 1988] [“New York’s compulsory education law serves the important state interests of preserving our basic political and economic institutions as well as assuring that our children are intellectually and socially prepared to become self-reliant members of society. These are clearly legitimate secular purposes …]

Eyewitness News 7 reported:

The state board action comes after years of complaints that thousands of children are graduating from ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools lacking basic academic skills, including the ability to read English.

The headline of a September 11 report at The New York Times stated, “In Hasidic Enclaves, Failing Private Schools Flush with Public Money.”

“New York’s Hasidic Jewish religious schools have benefited from $1 billion in government funding in the last four years but are unaccountable to outside oversight,” the report continued, noting students at “nearly a dozen” Hasidic schools had “dismal outcomes” in reading and math on state standardized tests in 2019.

The Times reported:

The leaders of New York’s Hasidic community have built scores of private schools to educate children in Jewish law, prayer and tradition — and to wall them off from the secular world. Offering little English and math, and virtually no science or history, they drill students relentlessly, sometimes brutally, during hours of religious lessons conducted in Yiddish.

The report concluded that “generations of children have been systematically denied a basic education, trapping many of them in a cycle of joblessness and dependency.”

In response to the Times, J. Erik Connolly, a Chicago-based attorney who represents the Tzedek Association, said in a letter to the news outlet:

The Hasidic community is proud of the education that it provides to its students — all of whom attend at their parents’ choice for a religious education — and has many, many accomplished and successful graduates.

The new regulation requires that English must be among the primary subjects taught in schools, including yeshivas, in which, according to the Times report, teachers often speak only Yiddish to students.

Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said the board is “trying to obviously adhere to the law but also create some flexibility as well,” Eyewitness News 7 reported.

A group called Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools represents the yeshivas and said families have the right to pay for private and religious education that is not under the thumb of the government.

“A government checklist, devised by lawyers and enforced by bureaucrats, hampers rather than advances education,” the group reportedly stated. “Parents in New York have been choosing a yeshiva education for more than 120 years, and they are proud of the successful results, and will continue to do the same, with or without the blessing or support of state leaders in Albany.”

According to the news report, representatives from Roman Catholic and Christian schools expressed confidence their schools will meet the “substantially equivalent” standard of the new rule.

In general, student performance in government-run schools in the United States has been declining for decades.

According to 2019 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – also called The Nation’s Report Card – a congressionally mandated project administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), New York’s grade 4 students performed three points below the national average in mathematics, with only 37 percent at or above the proficiency level.

Additionally, only 34 percent of grade 4 students in New York performed at or above the proficiency level in reading in the 2019 NAEP administration.

Overall, in 2019, the average score of fourth-grade students in New York was 237, compared to the average score of 240 for public school students throughout the nation.

New York’s grade 8 students scored one point below the national average in mathematics in 2019, with only 34 percent at or above the proficiency level. In reading, the performance of New York grade 8 students was not significantly different from the national average, with 32 percent at or above the proficiency level.

The new Board of Regents regulation comes following a report from the Heritage Foundation that found New York’s ranking on the organization’s Education Freedom Report Card, which rates states on the degree to which they empower parents in their children’s education and support school freedom, is #50.

New York ranked second to last to the District of Columbia which, according to the Report Card, provides the least education freedom in the nation.

Florida and Arizona are the top-ranked states supporting freedom, the Report Card found.

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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]




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