There are many, many hurdles and obstacles in the way of ensuring that every child attending a Yeshiva in New York State gets the education he or she deserves.
The obvious one is the lack of political will.
Another one is the present lack of clarity from the state regarding what constitutes “substantial equivalency” and how local districts should enforce it. To address that, New York State has been working on revising their regulations which outline the expectations of private schools and the local school districts who oversee them. The state has recently announced that new draft regulations will be released in March. They would then go to the public for comment, and then to the Board of Regents for a vote before being enacted. NYSED feels confident this process will be completed in time for the next school year (2022-2023).
But there are lesser known obstacles as well. One is the State Education Department’s lack of funding and capacity to properly enforce the law. There are approximately 1,800 non-public schools in New York State, and there’s a small office in the State Education Department’s building that focuses on these non-public schools.
That office is called SORIS (State Office for Religious and Independent Schools).
Until recently their only focus had been to ensure that private schools get the funding to which they and their students are entitled. There’s a big debate whether private schools should receive government funding altogether, but the reality is that every year, they have been getting millions of dollars in funding. Yet no money has been given to the body that regulates them to ensure these schools comply with education standards.
New York State is currently formulating their 2022-2023 budget, a process that begins with a budget proposal from the governor’s office in January and ends with a vote by the New York State Assembly and Senate in late March. The good news is that, per a request from NYSED, the governor’s budget included an additional $657,000 specifically designated to enforce substantial equivalency.
This is a positive development. It signals that both the State Education Department and the Governor’s office are on board with ensuring that non-public schools provide a proper secular education.
In the scheme of things, this money may seem miniscule. The proposed budget from the governor amounts to 216 billion dollars. The perks for private schools alone total around $300 million, a huge chunk of which go to schools that don’t currently meet even the minimum standards of instruction.
Yet, we hope that a small amount of funding allocated to hire the right team to oversee the enforcement of substantial equivalency will be sufficient, and if the need persists, the state can increase that appropriation in years to come.
This funding paves the way for the state to have the ability to oversee the monumental work of ensuring that local school districts and individual schools do what is expected of one another and provide students with the education they deserve. We are grateful to the State Education Department and to the Governor’s office for heeding our calls for greater oversight and enforcement of substantial equivalency.