New York State’s Dangerous War on Private Education

September 10, 2019 | Peter Murphy
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Last spring, three sets of lawyers—representing, respectively, Jewish, Catholic, and nonsectarian private schools—appeared in a New York State court to challenge the legality of a new set of regulations that would severely curtail the ability of these schools to function and to maintain their distinctiveness. The court found in their favor on strictly procedural grounds: the regulations were mere edicts, approved by neither the Board of Regents nor the state legislature. But the issue is bound to resurface, as the Regents are now considering endorsing a similar set of measures. Peter Murphy writes:

[New York State’s] education department is redefining an 1894 state law requiring that private schools offer instruction to students that is “substantially equivalent” to that provided in public schools—henceforth imposing on private schools the curriculum, scheduling, lesson plans, hiring standards, and reporting requirements that public schools must follow.

Even more alarmingly, the department’s new mandate would require local school-district boards of education to oversee and inspect most private and parochial schools within their respective district boundaries, using undefined “objective criteria” to determine compliance with the redefined substantially-equivalent standard. Lack of compliance could mean closure. Public-school districts, then, would become the arbiters of whether their competitors—private and religious schools—can remain open, a blatant conflict of interest.

If the department succeeds in this unprecedented attempt to control non-public education in New York, it will virtually eliminate what makes private and independent schools different, and it will diminish First Amendment freedoms for hundreds of thousands of families, particularly regarding the free exercise of religion.

[G]iven the achievements of private schools, New York State should be doing the opposite of what it is currently pursuing, and enact reforms that would make private schools an easier option for more parents. . . . School choice [constitutes] a progressive approach to providing educational opportunity and economic equality for children from poor and working-class households to attend better schools. Moreover, expanding choice is not a zero-sum game; more school options for families do not impede the ability of elected officials to support and improve district public schools.

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