When Gov. Cuomo was pushing his 2 percent property-tax levy cap, he tried to calm the nerves of anxious school officials by promising that he would also bring mandate relief.
School officials have long complained about the state’s many mandates: all sorts of rules and regs that force districts to spend more tax money. So they have been anxious to see what Cuomo would actually deliver.
Cuomo appointed several groups to get a handle on the mandate monster.
But in the meantime, he now faces a very interesting test case that New York’s entire education establishment is watching closely.
Late Friday, the Senate sent Cuomo a bill that would force school districts, when choosing appropriate placements for special-education students, to consider a student’s “home environment and family background.”
The bill was drafted and promoted by Agudath Israel, a NYC-based Orthodox Jewish group. Orthodox Jews, particularly from Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn and East Ramapo, have long complained about students from these insular communities being placed in public schools. State law requires that public districts pay special-education costs, including in private schools when there are no appropriate public-school settings available.
Many families from these Orthodox communities desperately want their children educated in special schools within their communities—with public districts footing the costs.
The bill came out of nowhere and was passed by the Senate and Assembly on June 21, the last day of the recent session. The Senate leadership held it until Friday, when it was finally sent to Cuomo, who now has 10 business days to sign or veto.
Every organization representing public education—school boards, superintendents, special ed administrators— strongly opposes the bill. They say the bill is vague, will produce a chaotic situation for special education officials and, most important, could be very COSTLY for school districts that do not currently send many students to private schools.
If a district has to send a student to a private school instead of educating him or her in-house, it could cost tens of thousands of dollars more. If a district has several families requesting a private placement because of home or environmental—not educational—factors, the costs could add up fast.
What I keep hearing from school people is that if Cuomo is serious about mandate relief, he can’t sign this bill. We’ll soon see what the governor decides and how he explains his decision.
UPDATE: Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing just came through LoHud Land to talk about other things. He was non-committal on the special ed bill, saying it’s a complicated matter. He also said the governor still has eight days (not counting Sundays) to make up his mind…
UPDATE II: I just got a call from a member of East Ramapo’s Orthodox community who said that the bill would save troubled East Ramp a lot of money. If East Ramapo could send severely disabled special-education students to private schools, it would be a lot cheaper than sending them public schools in Kiryas Joel in Orange County (which costs upwards of $70,000 a year).
This caller also said that what East Ramapo really needs is to revive a program it briefly ran in a public school for severely disabled young children from the Orthodox community. The program offered Yiddish instruction and Kosher assistance, but was stopped because of criticism that touched on constitutional issues.