The Convergence of the Nanny State and Secular State

In Columns by Hal PetersonLeave a Comment

Even ardent opponents of school choice accept that parents have the right to send their children to private schools. That may soon change in New York State, where education officials are preparing new guidelines to impose strict regulations on the instruction that religious and other private schools provide, while empowering local school districts to shutter those schools if they fail to meet state standards.

It’s fair to ask why? The state Education Department requires nonpublic schools to provide instruction that is “substantially equivalent” to that of nearby public schools. Studies made by the education department reveal the fundamentals of English, math, and science in Hasidic, and Orthodox Jewish schools are not being adequately taught despite legal requirements to do so.  One individual, a 25 year old student at Oholei Torah, the most prominent yeshiva in Crown Heights, said “I did not grow up learning English or any kind of secular studies at all,” and subjects like phonics and math were “nonexistent.”

In November of last year the Daily News published an article titled “The Ugly Attack on NY Yeshivas.” Rabbi David Niederman, Director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg disagrees. “Hasidim choose a different path, one with fewer temporal ambitions but with the goal of sustaining a way of life that seems outdated in its simplicity to many, but is as enriching and fulfilling to its adherents as a tenured professorship or a law firm partnership.”

As noted earlier what is occurring, in these particular schools, appears to be a violation of legal standards. The Supreme Court’s 1925 decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters established that children are “not mere creatures of the state” and that parents have the right to choose “schools where their children will receive appropriate mental and religious training.” Almost 50 years later, in Wisconsin v. Yoder, the court reaffirmed these rights, recognizing the “fundamental interest of parents, as contrasted with that of the State, to guide the religious future and education of their children.” The trade off as cited in a Wall Street Journal column, parents, not the state, must foot the bill for private education saving the state billions.

Note: In 1972, New York enacted a law to help pay for “secular education in for pupils in non-public schools.” The Supreme Court stuck it down claiming it violated the First Amendment and would lead to excessive government in religion.

Over eighteen-hundred private schools operate state-wide serving over 460,000 students. A bit of solace the new guidelines kick in only after “serious concerns” have been established about the instruction at a non-public school. The new regulations however will mandate regular inspections, state officials will review the curriculum, sit in on classes, and interview teachers.

If these new regulations are enforced we will witness the convergence of the nanny state and the secular state for the sake of standards.


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