New York State's legislature recently passed a bill requiring public school systems to pay the tuition of special needs students in private schools, if public school conditions don't match the family culture or home environment of these kids.
The bill awaits Governor Cuomo's signature. He must veto it if he has any common sense and financial responsibility to voters. This bill is a windfall for private schools, including religious institutions, and a disaster for taxpayers.
I don't know how my state senator, Toby Stavisky, voted on this measure, but if she voted for it, she deserves to lose the primary election on Sept. 11. By approving this bill, state legislators caved in to special interests and underscored how special needs education spawns a culture of special greed.
Even without this bill, the Department of Education (DOE) now pays $235 million annually for private school tuition of special education students whose parents proved that their kids are not getting the education they need in public schools. They gamed the system with the help of money hungry lawyers desperate
for work and devoid of scruples.
The new bill extends taxpayer-funded tuition to religious schools for the first time, violating the U.S. Constitution's requirement for separation of church and state. Religious schools would reap higher enrollments at taxpayers' expense, while public schools would suffer declining enrollment and funds.
Small wonder that the biggest supporters of this measure were Catholic and orthodox Jewish schools, backed by an army of lobbyists they bought and paid for. It's another glaring example of how special interests in Albany are ripping off
In fact, placing special needs students in private schools, religious or secular, counters the new trend of educators to mainstream these kids by placing them in classrooms with regular students.
DOE recently launched an initiative to do exactly that. As a public school volunteer tutor for the past 7 years, I've worked with special education kids learning side-by-side with non-disabled students. They've done well and thrived, thanks to the encouragement of their teachers and classmates.
More of this needs to be done. We must recognize that all students in our schools are special, and some should not benefit at the expense of others. This bill should not become law.