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New York Officials Threaten Private Schools

Once again, politicians in the Empire State want to leave nowhere to hide from their control.

New York state officials are, once again, abusing their power in an attempt to control and destroy private institutions they find inconvenient. This should be shocking, since we're talking about an American state declaring war on private schools. But in New York, total control is just what officials do.

Leveraging concerns that some Orthodox yeshivas—Jewish schools that focus on religious studies—neglect secular subjects, the New York State Department of Education in November instructed local school authorities to assess the curricula of private school in their areas, with the continued existence of those independent institutions in the balance.

"Under state law, local public school officials have the responsibility to ensure that the education received by nonpublic school students is substantially equivalent to that received in district public schools," state officials said in a press release. "Substantial equivalency means that a program is comparable in content and educational experience, but it may differ in method of delivery and format."

The guidance issued by the state is very specific about hours of operation, mandating that "elementary and middle schools must have an educational program that extends from no later than nine a.m. until no earlier than four p.m. for grades one through three, and no earlier than five-thirty p.m. for grades four through eight on the majority of weekdays." That leaves little room for innovation or flexibility.

The guidance also mandates that private schools provide more hours of instruction than public-school counterparts.

"The state government now requires private schools to offer a specific set of classes more comprehensive than what students in public schools must learn," Elya Brudny and Disraeli Reisman, deans of two Brooklyn-based yeshivas, point out in the Wall Street Journal. "Our schools must offer 11 courses to students in grades 5 through 8, for a total of seven hours of daily instruction. Public schools have less than six hours a day of prescribed instruction."

And the state specifies that if private schools can't be brought up to snuff as determined by school boards—the same school boards managing public schools that directly compete with those private schools for students—then school authorities "shall provide written notification to the administration of the nonpublic school and the parents or persons in a parental relationship of students attending the school of such determination." In addition, it states that "students will be considered truant if they continue to attend" a private school deemed deficient.

It doesn't bode well for private schools and those who believe families should have educational options. Would anybody trust Microsoft with the power to determine if its competitors should be allowed to exist?

Maybe local school officials are just better people (asked for comment, state education officials pointed to their November 20 press release, linked above). But the administrators of private schools across New York aren't prepared to offer these empowered competitors the benefit of the doubt.

"Government may have an interest in ensuring that every child receives a sound basic education, but it has no right to commandeer our schools' curricula," object Brudny and Reisman. "Parents who want to send their children to a school offering a course list devised by the state enroll their children in the local public school. But parents who choose religious education want their children to have a specific moral, ethical and religious framework for life."

Jewish schools educate the largest subset of the 19 percent of students who choose a private education in New York City, but Catholic schools have long had the largest presence among the roughly 15 percent of students who receive such an education state-wide—and representatives of those schools are no happier. In fact, Catholic schools are in open revolt.

"We simply cannot accept a competing school having authority over whether our schools can operate," James Cultrara, executive secretary of the state Council of Catholic School Superintendents, told the Times-Union.

"We write to inform you that the New York State Council of Catholic School Superintendents, representing some 500 Catholic schools, rejects the recently released 'substantial equivalency' guidelines and is directing all diocesan Catholic schools not to participate in any review carried out by local public school officials," the state was told in a commendable example of large-scale noncompliance.

If "substantial equivalency" is the standard to be met, Catholic officials have reason to claim that their schools should be assessing government institutions, given that test scores at New York's Catholic schools regularly surpass those at their public competitors. Yet New York's Catholic educators are now at the mercy of government regulators.

"Leviathan has now focused its attention on religious schools here in New York, with the clear intention of either forcing them to submit to its authority or face destruction," writes Ed Mechmann, director of public policy for the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. "Does anyone trust that the government will self-limit their exercise of this new-found power? That's not how Leviathan works. These new rules would give Leviathan the authority to eliminate the very concept of independent private schools and to override the religious sensibilities of parents and school administrators."

New York officials' attack on the independence of private schools isn't an isolated spasm of totalitarian impulse. Earlier this year, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state's Department of Financial Services warned "regulated institutions to review any relationships they have with the NRA or similar gun promotion organizations" in an effort to cut off groups that advocate for self-defense rights from access to financial services. Official guidance was blunt that banks and insurance companies would face official displeasure if they continued to do business with groups advocating ideas at odds with those of state officials.

Governor Cuomo openly gloated on Twitter that "If the @NRA goes bankrupt because of the State of New York, they'll be in my thoughts and prayers."

"The allegations of direct and implied threats to insurers and financial institutions because of these entities' links with the NRA, and the allegations of resulting harm to the NRA's operations, are sufficient to make out plausible First Amendment freedom-of-speech claims," U.S. District Judge Thomas A. McAvoy ruled last month in a decision that allows the NRA's resulting lawsuit to proceed.

It's disappointing, but no surprise, that New York officials are again abusing their regulatory power in an attempt to crush organizations and ideas they dislike.

Photo Credit: Kirk Condyles/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom

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  • Ham Sarris||

    This seems a little misleading. The Yeshivas in NYC don't teach the students basic knowledge. The kids just learn talmud and then grow up to live on welfare because they don't want to get a real job but even if they wanted to, they often literally cannot read and write english proficiently. Their instruction is almost exclusively in Yiddish. I agree that rules on the number of hours of instruction are awful policy, but I think these kids should get a secular education even if their parents don't want them to.

  • Samantha613||

    Not exactly an accurate assessment of Yeshivas. Consider the number of yeshivas that exist in the state, there are over a hundred easy. I graduated High school with 39 college credits, compare that to most other schools. What you are doing Sam is taking an extreme case and using that as a bias case against all. And this extreme case you are not even listing a specific Yeshiva, just using a broad stroke of your pen to typecast all yeshivas to fall under that spectrum.

    I challenge you, look up the scores of the NY based schools, look at Yeshiva of Flatbush, Darchei, Ramaz, Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy,Shaar Hatorah, Torah Academy High School For Girls, I can keep going these are all NYC schools, that have academics excellence that far surpass almost public schools averages.

    You can look and try to fix the extreme failing schools in any group of institutions but to make regulations that do not allow time for religious study (when it clearly in 99 of institutions) within institutions who excel in state examinations.

    PS If anything is typo-ed I apologize it is due to my mobile keyboard.

  • DajjaI||

    To be clear, there are different types of yeshivas. Some are most excellent, as you point out. It is preposterous for the state to try to regulate them. However others are atrocious. After age 13, they learn NO secular studies. When I lived in New York a decade ago, I tutored a few of their graduates in basic math and science. They are very smart but don't even know arithmetic in some cases. They can't pass the GED, which is actually very simple. Fortunately they can catch up quickly. But it's hard work and it's wrong that they are put in this situation. However I don't blame the government I blame their own leadership. The only solution is to stop subsidizing them (and crying 'antisemite!' when someone says so).

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    Mobile keyboard - hah! A convenient excuse. We know it's your insecular Yeshiva edumacation at fault.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    It's no coincidence that you can't spell insecular without every letter from insular.

  • Ham Sarris||

    You're right to call me out for not citing any data there. I was just going off my recollection of this article from the nytimes: https://nyti.ms/2zDgwi6

    I'm not sure what the best solution is, because you're right that plenty of those schools are probably better than public schools. I just think it's horrifying that we would allow some schools to fail their students just because they're religious. I'm definitely biased against religion so idk

  • Tionico||

    It is patently obvious you are biased against any religious folk and what they do. Setting that aside, I'll ask this:
    From what I've read of New York's public school system, and what I know of some "religious" educaction and also of homsechoolling (which is EXTENSIVE.. hundreds home schooled students over more than twenty years) I challenge you to carefully examine ALL New York tax funded schools and NOT find a signficant percentage (let's put that at ten percent" of their graduates who fall far short of what would be considered basic education. When the gummit skelwlz begin besting the percentages and test score averages of all private schools, and also of home schooled children, then perhaps you can come back and have your whinge.
    Yes, there are exceptions in any category you choose. Which is why I am certain the state schools average below private and home schooling.
    Your comments on welfare are also uncalled for. Provide documentation from credible sources.

    Further, who says the curriculum of the gummit skewlz is really anywhere near the ideal? A smart kid who never "learned" his maths in a privat school has learned far more then his counterparts in the tax schools. He has ALSO learned HOW to learn, something the vast majority of tax school graduates have NOT learned.
    I'd hire a smart kid who is ignorant in a heartbeat, but most tax school kids, forget it. Nor have the tax funded kids learned how to apply themselves wholeheartedly to anything much.

  • Rossami||

    I'm curious how you reconcile that claim with the evidence reported in the article that students from those private schools (including those yeshivas) regularly outperform public school students on the mandatory testing. The last I checked, those tests were essentially impossible to pass if you were not already proficient in English.

    Is it more likely that you are making up facts out of whole cloth, Ham?

  • Carter Mitchell||

    Or - better idea - eliminate tax-funded (theft) welfare. No matter who has their begging bowl out. Private charity? Fine. But let's not confuse violence-backed robbery with compassion.

    Then if those kids can't compete, their community can support them or they can starve.

    That's assuming that your assertions are true. It's certainly NOT true of Catholic schools. As the article pointed out, those graduates - much like home schooled kids - far outperform inmates of the "public schools".

  • hackajar||

    The same could be said for the Amish schools in PA, but no one there is picking a fight with them. Regardless of the quality of education given, it is not the states right to impose their will on a private church ran school. The parents and their children have a right to pick a poor education over a public education (assuming the public education happens to be better than the private one in a particular situation).

  • Trainer||

    I think yours is an argument against welfare and not an educational system. If we didn't have welfare, parents of all kids would feel the need to make sure they could hold jobs as adults.

  • DajjaI||

    The fact is, the ultra orthodox will die before allowing their kids to be educated. Thus there is no regulation that would be able to force them to do it. It will lead to all out war. I lived in Jerusalem last year and spent some time with these people and there is no reasoning with them. They will only become more radicalized. The only solution is to stop subsidizing their dysfunction. The poorest county in the country is Kiryas Joel, as determined by the amount of public benefits they consume. They are a great example of why socialism fails - it creates dependence and entitlement and resentment. #chickenscomehome2roost

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    Would anybody trust Microsoft with the power to determine if its competitors should be allowed to exist?

    A friend was really good at making up finding conspiracy theories that were just plausible enough that you couldn't dismiss them out of hand. One of my favorites was that Bill Gates was doing his damnedest to throw the anti-trust trial (doctored video, perjury) so that the government would win control of Windows just in time for Y2K to blow up, then he could blame it on the government.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    "Under state law, local public school officials have the responsibility to ensure that the education received by nonpublic school students is substantially equivalent to just as shitty as that received in district public schools," state officials said in a press release.

    FTFY.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    The War on Jews and Catholics continues!

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Feels more like a general war against school choice. They can't just say that though so they pick odd groups who people kind of don't like anyway.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    But parents who choose religious education want their children to have a specific moral, ethical and religious framework for life."

    Which is in direct conflict with the leftist ideology being preached in NY's public schools. Every private school associated with a religion (ANY religion), should be up in arms about this.

  • Flaco||

    Imagine that, me agreeing with religious institutions!

    I think the Catholic guy is a libertarian. The word Leviathan gives him away!

  • Tionico||

    Leviathan.. straight out of the bible.

    Deal.

  • Eddy||

    Even before we get to the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children, we have the procedural due process issue of the public school system ruling on whether their competition is up to standards.

  • Robert||

    Grades 1-6 at P.S. 108 we went 9-3, with 45 min. off for lunch. What are they filling these extra hrs. for grade schoolers now w? Must be they just want someone to mind the kids until the parents get off work.

  • Tionico||

    its cheaper tax wise than publically subsidised day care, so you are certainly on the mark

  • JoeBlow123||

    ""Leviathan has now focused its attention on religious schools here in New York, with the clear intention of either forcing them to submit to its authority or face destruction," writes Ed Mechmann, director of public policy for the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. "Does anyone trust that the government will self-limit their exercise of this new-found power? That's not how Leviathan works. These new rules would give Leviathan the authority to eliminate the very concept of independent private schools and to override the religious sensibilities of parents and school administrators.""

    The locally born, raised, and educated 89th Precinct Superintendent James May when asked for comment responded, "I just googled 'leviathan.' What the hell does some Jewish-Bible whale have to do with this?"

  • Fox2!||

    That's what happens when your plan if studies is controlled by Dewy and Mann rather than ignatius and Dominic.

  • Muzzled Woodchipper||

    Fuck New York State.

    The idea behind private schools is that they're fucking private, assholes.

    I send my kid to private school not because I'm rich or want to rub elbows with local rich folk, but because government education is bullshit. Because it frees my children from government being in control of how and what they learn.

    The state can piss up a rope. I decide how my kids are educated, not government bureaucrats in cheap suits.

  • Fox2!||

    WAsnt this settled back in the 20s? Something about the Supreme Court, Scottish Rite Masons acting through a State legislature, and an order of Sisters?

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