Last week, the New York State budget was voted through by legislators and signed into effect by Governor Kathy Hochul, after negotiations pushed its completion a month past its April 1 due date.
This annual budget totals $229 billion for the upcoming fiscal year, which runs from April 1 2023-March 31 2024. And while there is always plenty within the budget to analyze in the days leading up to and after it gets passed, one key aspect that is of particular importance to YAFFED is language that nearly made its way into the budget bill, but failed to. This was a result of lobbying efforts that failed in the face of strong opposition by YAFFED’s supporters, as well as other allies in the fight to ensure education equality in the private school sector.
In the week leading up to its April 1 due date, an effort was made by Hasidic leaders to insert language into the legislation which would have diluted and undermined the State Board of Regents regulations issued last fall regarding substantially equivalent education. The proposed legislative language would have allowed for private accreditation agencies to step in and perform the same duties currently held by State-recognized agencies and would have additionally created intentionally vague parameters to measure test scores in comparison to public schools. The effort by the Hasidic leaders produced strong opposition from other major players in the private school sector.
The proposed language that would have been inserted into legislation:
In response, leaders of the Association of Independent Schools and the Council of Catholic School Superintendents both sent letters to Governor Hochul expressing their concern that the efforts to create new pathways for private schools to meet the State Education Department’s substantial equivalency requirements would water down the existing regulations. James Cultrara, executive secretary of the state Council of Catholic School Superintendents, who authored one of the letters to Governor Hochul, told Spectrum News: “Any legislative attempt to undermine or supersede that regulation we believe is not prudent,” adding that the nature of the closed-room negotiations to include the language purposely leads to a lack of transparency for key stakeholders: “The very fact we know discussions are happening and there’s no language that’s being shared for people like myself and others to have input on — that’s cause for worry,” he said. A prominent Hasidic leader took credit for the attempted obfuscation of the regulations, bragging that the involvement of visibly non-Jewish lawmakers to include the bill language would hide the trace of involvement by Hasidic and Haredi yeshivas who have advocated against any form of regulations of substantially equivalent education in their schools. A previous bill that would have included this language was authored last May but failed to make it out of the Senate. The push to include similar language in this year’s budget bill was stopped yet again, thanks to the vigilance of those involved in fighting back against it, recognizing the threat to the newly enacted regulations.
We at YAFFED know that this will continue to be an ongoing challenge as Haredi and Hasidic yeshiva leadership resist the new oversight requirements enacted by the NY State Education Department and The Board Of Regents. That is why YAFFED, along with our supporters, must remain committed to raising awareness, advocating for, and organizing around the rights of yeshiva students to receive a secular education, and we won’t stop until every child receives the education that they deserve.