Carlucci’s Column: Supporting Equivalency Standards for Non-Public Schools

BY SENATOR DAVID CARLUCCI

Rockland County lawmakers considered a resolution in support of my state legislation (S.1733), which would provide more oversight of non-public schools. The resolution was voted down, 2-3 in the Multi Services Committee. This was disappointing and threatens to hurt the very children who need help the most. Every student has the right to a quality education that prepares them for success in life beyond the classroom. Every school should have to meet the same basic standards as governed by the State Education Department (SED), and we need all our lawmakers to support this.

However, we have seen across New York, some non-public schools have failed children by not providing them instruction of basic courses like English, Math, and Science. It has been law for non-public schools to maintain “substantially equivalent” standards to those of public schools, but oversight is needed to enforce this law.

To this end, the legislation offers several ways to enforce substantially equivalent standards. It will strengthen the role of the State’s Education Commissioner and public accountability. The bill introduced in the Senate and Assembly (S.1733/A.1305) would allow parents, students, and teachers to file a complaint with the SED if they believe their private school fails to meet “substantially equivalent” standards. The Commissioner would have to investigate substantial complaints and would be allowed to issue a corrective action plan against schools in violation. The commissioner also would reserve the right to place a temporary observer in the school or halt the school’s student registration all together. This increased level of enforcement would ensure all schools take equivalency standards seriously.

Following budget negotiations this past April, my colleagues in the Assembly Ellen Jaffee and Ken Zebrowski and I did not support efforts to roll back standards on private school curriculum. As a result, the State Education Commissioner, MaryEllen Elia has been asked to provide more oversight by determining equivalency standards, a power previously reserved by individual school districts.

We expect Commissioner Elia to define what the “substantially equivalent” standards are for non-public schools. I am hopeful once we have these standards on the books, and this crucial piece of legislation is passed, our children’s right to a comprehensive education will be much more fully protected. I encourage my fellow colleagues in the Senate and Assembly to remember education is not a partisan issue, and a vote for these bills is a vote for putting our children first.