Efforts to delay Yeshiva oversight failed to make NY budget, despite push from Haredi political operatives

Per regulations passed in 2022, private schools have to demonstrate during the 2024-2025 school year that they offer adequate secular education

Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein at the State of the State address in January. Credit: Shtetl

Apr 21, 2024 11:55 AM


A push to delay when private schools must demonstrate that they offer adequate secular education failed to make it into New York state budget legislation, three state senators told Shtetl.

Despite the behind-the-scenes campaign to extend the timeline by at least one year, all New York private schools will still be expected to demonstrate during the 2024-2025 school year that they offer education that is “substantially equivalent” to public school education in subjects like math, science, English, and social studies, as part of a New York State Education Department regulation that passed in 2022.

The budget bill that includes education was one of the last parts of the budget to be released. The state’s budget was due on April 1, but that deadline is often missed as lawmakers seek to use the budget to address policy issues.

The substantial equivalency negotiations were part of what caused the delay, the Albany Times Union reported. According to that news outlet, Governor Kathy Hochul’s office may have hoped that by extending the deadline, it could help preferred candidates win U.S. congressional races in districts with large Haredi communities, including ones currently represented by congress members Pat Ryan, Mike Lawler, and Anthony D’Esposito.

A spokesperson for the governor did not respond to questions from Shtetl. A spokesperson for Ryan did not respond to Shtetl’s questions either. Assemblymember Simcha Eichenstein, whose district is home to many Haredi schools, did not respond either.

The Times Union reported that rabbi Shiya Ostreicher was among those involved in the negotiations. Ostreicher, who is not a registered lobbyist in New York State, has worked in the past with the Haredi advocacy organization Agudath Israel of America.

Though the budget did not extend the substantial equivalency timeline, it did include increased funding for private schools, according to a press release from Agudah. Lawmakers increased funding for school security amid rising concerns about antisemitism, and for mandated services aid, a program that reimburses private schools for costs associated with complying with laws, such as the cost of taking attendance and administering required exams. 

“This is a budget we can be proud of,” said Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Agudah’s director of New York government relations.

The advocacy organizations New York Jewish Agenda and YAFFED, which supports secular education in Haredi schools, both pushed back against the campaign to delay the timeline after they heard rumors that lawmakers were considering it.

“We reached out to all our grasstops supporters, people we thought would make calls to the legislature or the governor’s office or get other people to do that,” said YAFFED spokesperson David Golovner. “We won. We stopped it. This was a successful effort on the part of reason, logic, and people that care about kids.”

Phylisa Wisdom, who became executive director of New York Jewish Agenda after working at YAFFED, called the thwarting of the attempted secular education delay “an enormous win for kids.”

“This was a quiet but intense last minute fight to save hard-fought regulations governing nonpublic schools, including yeshivas,” Wisdom wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Grateful to the electeds and fellow advocates who held the line.”

In recent months, government officials have sent letters to some Haredi schools in New York City saying they had been determined not to provide adequate secular education, after a YAFFED complaint filed nine years ago spurred the New York City Department of Education to investigate 39 of them. (Naftuli Moster, who led YAFFED from 2012 to 2022 and filed the complaint, is the CEO of Shtetl.)

In letters sent on June 30, the New York City Department of Education told the leaders of four Hasidic schools in Brooklyn that they’d been determined not to provide a substantially equivalent education.

In November, twelve more Hasidic schools in Brooklyn received letters from NYSED saying they, too, had been determined not to provide adequate secular education. 

For example, a Sopron Hasidic boys’ school in Williamsburg offered a particularly scant secular education. City officials who visited “did not observe instruction, taught in English, in any of the common branch subjects of English Language Arts (reading, spelling, writing, and the English language), arithmetic, geography, United States history civics, hygiene, the history of New York State, science, and physical training, including the four core subjects of English, mathematics, science and social studies,” according to a letter they sent to the school’s principal.

Officials told the 16 schools to submit plans to improve secular education offerings.

By June 30, 2025, school districts across the state will have to determine, for every school in their district that was operating as of September 28, 2022, whether or not the school is substantially equivalent. Schools that began operating after this date will have to demonstrate substantial equivalence within two years of founding.

It is yet to be determined in court what, if any, consequences schools will face if they receive negative determinations.

The push to delay private school oversight is the latest in a series of attempts made in the state legislature in the past few years to undermine NYSED regulations. In 2018, state senator Simcha Felder, who represents some Haredi communities in Brooklyn, held up the state budget in an attempt to relax yeshiva rules. More recently, in 2022, Hasidic rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum made a speech bragging about the passage of a yeshiva-related bill he said state assembly members voted to pass without understanding. That bill did not become law.