The state of New York is considering guidelines that could dramatically change the relationship between public and private schools. Although the current “Guidelines for Determining Equivalency of Instruction in Nonpublic Schools” require private schools to offer an education that is “substantially equivalent” to that received in public schools, the new regulations would permit local public school superintendents to evaluate and identify private schools that they deem to be inadequate. New requirements would also require private schools to administer standardized tests and report the results to the state.
According to the Times Herald-Record (12/4/2017), state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia told a private school organization that public school leaders will “have the responsibility to visit and know that the nonpublic schools are, in fact, delivering an equivalent education.”
Discussion about the new guidelines, which have yet to be released, follows an effort last fall to investigate dozens of Orthodox Jewish yeshivas in New York City that some parents claim failed to meet the “substantially equivalent” standard when they emphasized religious studies over secular coursework.
Efforts to regulate parochial private school education may run afoul of the Free Exercise Clause as well as the case law established in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925) which struck down an Oregon statute requiring all children to attend public school, and Yoder v. Wisconsin, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) which found that the parents’ fundamental right to freedom of religion outweighed the state’s interest in providing them an education. This distinction may be clouded when state funding is involved, see Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, 582 U.S. (2017).