New regulations issued by New York state’s education department on Tuesday will require education authorities to review the curricula of every Hasidic yeshiva in the state, along with those of all other private schools.
The regulations come years into a growing controversy over whether New York’s Hasidic yeshivas are providing education that is substantially equivalent to that offered in public schools, as is required by state law. An investigation by the New York City Department of Education into the issue has made little progress over the past three years, according to an interim report published over the summer.
The new guidelines say that the state will shut down schools that don’t meet the equivalency requirements if they fail to address the issue.
Under the new guidelines, the state education department and local school boards will have until 2021 to determine whether all the private schools in the state, including Hasidic yeshivas, meet the equivalency standard. The guidelines are complex. As of Tuesday afternoon, neither the yeshiva reform group YAFFED nor the pro-yeshiva group PEARLS had issued a response.
“Every child has a fundamental right to receive a quality education,” the chancellor of the state Board of Regents, Betty Rosa, said in a statement. “The process should be a collaborative effort that is a mutually beneficial learning process for leaders of both public and nonpublic schools resulting in appropriate educational opportunities for the children they serve.”
The new regulations come as power in Albany swings away from the Orthodox Jewish community. The November elections stripped the extraordinary power of State Sen. Simcha Felder, who represents heavily Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn, and who controlled a key vote in the fractured Senate chamber. Voters delivered the Senate to the Democrats in November, a double blow to the Orthodox, who had close ties to Senate Republicans, and to Felder.
The guidelines, however, are based on a controversial law passed as part of last summer’s budget deal. The law, which Felder demanded in order to sign on to the budget, limited state oversight over Hasidic yeshivas, but left significant leeway to the education department to determine substantial equivalency requirements.
The new law says that the state education commissioner, rather than local school districts, will determine equivalency for schools that meet certain criteria that were drawn only to include Hasidic yeshivas. Due, in part, to that law, the new documentation from the state education department is complex. Coming just before a holiday weekend, it’s likely to take days before its implications are clear.
The documentation includes guidelines relating to teacher competency, instructional rigor, and other areas.
According to the education department, the reviews of the state’s non-public schools under the guidelines will begin this school year and continue through 2021. Subsequently, each school will be reviewed once every five years.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.