New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will veto a controversial special education bill that would require consideration of religion and family beliefs when determining school placement and thus taxpayer-funded tuition at private schools, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The legislation passed both the state Senate and Assembly with bipartisan support June 21, the Legislature’s last day of session. According to the New York Daily News, Catholic and Orthodox Jewish groups lobbied heavily on behalf of the bill, asserting that some children are best served by learning in settings that mirror their family life at home.
The measure would have mandated that education officials weigh “home environment and family background” when deciding whether to place a student with special needs in a private school.
Private tuition and transportation for special education can cost $100,000 annually per child, and the legislation in question would have streamlined tuition reimbursements to parents, the Wall Street Journal reports.
"It was so open-ended, that it's hard to define what a family background and home environment is," Georgia Asciutto, executive director of the Conference of Big 5 School Districts, told the Journal. "Is it someone who grew up in the mountains of a rural community and moves to New York City and has never been exposed to anyone of any other culture? Now what? Those were extreme examples."
The Department of Education reimburses about $235 million a year in private-school tuition to parents who prove public schools did not adequately serve their children with special needs. According to the New York Post, about 200,000 of the city’s 1.1 million public school students receive special education services.
The Journal reports that from 2009 to 2012, New York City spent more than $500 million on private school tuition, and in a memo to Cuomo Thursday, the New York Citizens Budget Commission said the proposed legislation had "the potential to create significant costs for school districts that are already under severe fiscal pressure."
According to YNN, the bill was opposed by the state teachers’ union, state School Boards Association and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also argued the legislation would be too expensive for districts to implement.
Many school officials contend the bill could have ushered in a voucher-like system for children with special needs by using government dollars to fund private school education that caters to families of varying religions, lifestyles and backgrounds.