New York's private and religious schools must prove they're teaching the basics

Private and religious schools in New York will now face greater scrutiny after state education leaders approved rules requiring the schools to prove their academic programs line up with those of public schools.

In a unanimous vote, the Board of Regents now requires all 1,800 nonpublic schools in the state to adhere to the new rules to prove that the instruction given in nonpublic schools "be at least substantially equivalent to the instruction" at public schools, as is already required by state law. 

Tuesday's action followed several years of debate that began with complaints of children graduating from ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools lacking basic academic skills.

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This week, The New York Times published an investigation into how many Hasidic school students have been falling way behind their public school peers all while the private religious schools raked in a significant amount of public money.

The guidance approved Tuesday outlines several ways that private schools can prove that they meet the longstanding mandate, including by using state-approved assessments or undergoing a review by the local school district. Schools can have religious classes but they must also ensure that students develop basic skills.

Supporters of some yeshivas, many of which are located in Brooklyn, have long opposed the rules as infringing on religious freedom and parental choice. 

Rabbi Yeruchim Silber of Agudath Israel of America objects to the move by the Board of Regents.

"We're concerned about government intruding to this level and telling parents what they should or shouldn't be doing," Silber told FOX 5 NY. "We have a system that worked well for over 100 years, worked well. Our schools, our teachers, they study secular subjects, rigorous and intellectually challenging."

Private schools that fall short of the threshold will be given time to adjust their instruction, state education officials have said. Those who may refuse to comply could lose state funding.

Assembly Member Charles Lavine, who represents parts of Nassau County, said he supports the new rules.

"We need to make sure that all of our kids are able to function in the 21st century, and that includes not simply religious instruction for those in the religious schools but it includes as well education in science and technology, in the social studies, in history and mathematics," Lavine said. "They are absolutely necessary today."

In 2015, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration began to look into how Hasidic schools were educating their students. The probe was put on hold during the pandemic. 

Mayor Eric Adams is now vowing to launch his own investigation into the quality of education in all private schools.

"We also must make sure that our children are in a safe environment," Adams said. "Must make sure those children are getting the basic education they need so they can be productive citizens."

With FOX 5 NY's Sharon Crowley and The Associated Press.