NY Regents panel endorses private school substantial equivalency rules
A New York State Board of Regents committee voted unanimously on Monday on controversial “substantial equivalency” rules for non-public schools, an effort that turned into a years-long battle, even though the rules enforced a law on the books since 1865.
The so-called Part 130 regulations task local school districts with evaluating the quality of education in all non-public schools within their borders. Local districts, along with the state education commissioner, must also take action for those who do not provide an education considered substantially equivalent to that received by public school children.
Private schools have various avenues to prove a substantially equivalent process – from offering Regents degrees to attending other programs – and skipping the examination process.
“We are a State Department and a Board of Regents who are truly accountable by law for all of our children in this state,” state Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said as the council of regents opened its meeting on Monday. “It is a commitment that we have and that we must respect.”
The process took seven years and hundreds of thousands of public comments; accusations of bias; and the pressure of parental legal action.
The full board is expected to approve the regulation update on Tuesday.
The objective, according to the Regents’ proposal of September 1, “is to ensure that children are not left in the dark, that they receive, from one source or another, an instruction which prepare for their place in society”.
Although the Substantial Equivalence Act has been in effect for more than a century, its enforcement has been lax.
In fact, a state education official said Monday that it’s unclear exactly how many non-public schools exist in the state. She estimated between 1,800 and 2,000.
The rules would require public school districts to identify private schools within their boundaries by September 1, 2023 and complete initial reviews of their academic offerings by June 2025.
The state has set trainings for local superintendents who will now be responsible for evaluating schools that may teach very differently from their public schools.
Districts like East Ramapo, which has more than 100 documented private schools within its boundaries, could face a monumental administrative task.
Local school boards also have a role: Elected officials vote on determinations for private schools. This adds a layer of complexity to East Ramapo, where the majority of board members represent neighborhoods where most children attend yeshivas.
How It Became a Yeshiva Problem
While the regulatory overhaul plan initially caught the attention of the Archdiocese of New York and many rabbinical leaders, the years-long battle has focused on what kind of secular education — or lack thereof, depending on reviews – offered in Hasidic Jewish yeshivas.
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Religious schools can and often do provide exemplary education, argue many activists on this issue. That includes most Jewish schools and yeshivas, say reform proponents like Naftuli Moster, who heads YAFFED, or Young Advocates for a Fair Education.
But many children in the yeshiva system are at risk of receiving a substandard education, said New City resident Moster. “We estimate that there are nearly 100 yeshivas across New York that do not provide (substantially equivalent) education.”
This includes schools large and small in Brooklyn, Rockland and Orange counties.
The yeshivas pushed back hard. Their advocates say national and local educators are ill-equipped to judge the quality of schools that provide a solid and valuable education through a religious lens.
Opponents of increased state intervention said the hyper-attention to the issue was aimed at their particular type of religious upbringing. Some have called it discriminatory and even anti-Semitic. Schools and shuls encouraged letter-mailing campaigns to protest the changes and testify to the quality of yeshiva teaching.
An overwhelming number of the 350,000 comments sent to regents about the regulations lambasted the changes, state officials said.
The push for increased surveillance has been championed by yeshiva graduates, like Moster, who say their upbringing did not allow them to function in a modern society, with little instruction in English, social sciences, math and civic education.
YAFFED’s stated mission, since 2012, is “to ensure that all students receive the essential tools and skills necessary for long-term personal growth and a self-sufficient future”.
Regents began considering revisions to the century-old rule in 2015. The state unveiled guidelines in 2018, but they were quickly challenged and then dropped in 2019 by a judge, citing procedural failures.
The Regents renewed their plans and a public comment period ended in May.
The regents’ approval timeline was likely accelerated by a lawsuit filed by former Rockland resident Bernice Weber, who challenged the quality of education a Brooklyn yeshiva was providing to her youngest son. In June, a state judge demanded that NYC step up its long-delayed investigation into the school and that the state finally take action on its regulations.
Impact on East Ramapo, KJ
The East Ramapo Central School District could face a steep learning curve and significant fiscal impact to implement the new rules.
More than 100 private schoolspredominantly yeshivas, are located within the boundaries of the district which covers the eastern part of the city and the greater Spring Valley area.
By comparison, the Suffern Central School District has eight non-public schools, mostly yeshivas, within the boundaries of the district. The North Rockland Central School District has two non-public schools—the Hilltop Program at Neary and St. Gregory Barbarigo—within its boundaries.
Kiryas Joel, a single district in Orange County that only serves children with special needs, has 12 nonpublic schools within its borders that serve more than 8,600 children, according to Kiryas Joel Superintendent Joel Petlin.
“A review of all the classrooms and programs of these non-public schools will obviously take a long time,” Petlin said Monday, “but will hopefully be a productive way to assess their educational programs and, in some cases, will be an opportunity to offer constructive methods to improve teaching in a culturally appropriate way.
Nearly 40,000 East Ramapo students who live in the district attend private schools, mostly yeshivas. Public schools educate about 10,000 children, most of whom are black and brown, many English language learners. The majority of children in the public and private systems are considered economically disadvantaged.
East Ramapo Schools Superintendent Clarence Ellis expressed confidence in the district’s ability to handle the task in a statement released ahead of the recent regents vote.
“During my tenure at the New York City Department of Education in Crown Heights, I have gained an in-depth knowledge of the substantial equivalency requirements for students attending non-public schools, as required by law. on New York State Education,” said Ellis, who is in her second year. the neighborhood.
Ellis declined further questions about whether the district would need to restructure or add staff to handle future demands.
A request for comment was not immediately returned by school board administrators or state-appointed tax auditor Bruce Singer.
Meanwhile, East Ramapo’s yeshiva system will only grow, and probably rapidly.
The 2020 U.S. Census shows that Rockland’s growth is concentrated in areas of Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish growth. While the county’s population grew by 8.5% between 2010 and 2020, Monsey’s growth was 46.4% during this period. The villages of Kaser and New Square, founded by Hasidic sects, increased by 16.2% and 39.4% respectively.
A school board member recently remarked at a board meeting that local yeshivas are already facing a shortage of places.
Nancy Cutler writes at People & Policy. Click here for his latest stories. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyrockland.
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