A special education bill sponsored by local Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, which would have demanded that evaluators consider the “home life and family background” of special education students when placing them in schools, was vetoed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday.
Although the bill does not specifically address religion, religious parents were elated at the bill’s stipulation that “home life and family background” be considered when placing special education students in schools or reimbursing parents for private school tuition. However, Cuomo put and end to this excitement, saying that the mandate was too broad and would have forced taxpayers to cover the expense of religious education.
“This administration … is committed to providing the best education and assistance to every child in New York, including children with disabilities,” Cuomo wrote in his veto message, according to the Wall Street Journal. “However, this bill unfairly places the burden on taxpayers to support the provision of private education.”
But Weinstein said the gov’s got it all wrong. This isn’t about religious or private education, it’s about streamlining the existing process for special education placement, she said. Currently, parents of special needs students who believe their child would be better suited in a private school need to repeatedly make their case to the city to obtain taxpayer-funded tuition reimbursement, often with the costly help of a lawyer.
“It is about parents of children with special needs not having to get a lawyer every year to fight for that which had been granted the previous year,” Weinstein told the New York Times. “It is about ensuring that parents of children with special needs are not waiting indefinitely for tuition reimbursements.”
Leah Steinberg, the director of special education at Agudath Israel of America, an organization which helped lobby for the legislation, said that the bill was about providing the best possible education for all special children.
“It has nothing to do with religion at all,” she said.
Steinberg feels that it is vital for evaluators to take into account the home life of children with special needs when placing them in schools. If there is a disconnect between the student’s home and school environment, the child will not learn effectively, Steinberg said. She believes that this bill would have made it easier to take care of the specific needs of each child.
While this bill has not been discussed by the mainstream media until Cuomo’s veto on Tuesday, it has been heavily reported on by the Jewish media during the past few weeks. Sites including vosizneias.com, and papers such as the Jewish Daily Forward have presented this bill as one which will benefit religious children, particularly Orthodox Jews. The Jewish Daily Forward even titled their article “State Cash May Fund Orthodox Special Ed,” leading readers to believe that this bill was targeted towards public funding of special education in Jewish schools, and helping shore up Weinstein’s bonafides among religious constituents ahead of the November elections – when she faces off against Orthodox Jewish Republican Joseph Hayon.
Weinstein issued a statement saying she will continue to fight for the bill’s passage. The Times said that this indicates that she will attempt to gather the two-thirds majority necessary to override the governor’s veto, but is currently seven votes shy.