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What happens when Albany clout is gone?

Add non-public schools to the issues affected by a changed political climate.

Simcha Felder.

Simcha Felder. Photo Credit: Simcha Felder.

Add another issue to the pile of policies bound to be affected by the shift in Albany’s political landscape.

The state Department of Education released details last week on how non-public schools, especially yeshivas, must handle secular education.

The schools have come under scrutiny as some private Jewish schools have been accused of insufficient teaching of secular subjects — or not teaching them at all. Under the state’s plan, local school districts will be required to review non-public schools to determine whether they provide an education “substantially equivalent” to their public counterparts. That includes requirements in teaching English, math, science and social studies. If standards aren’t met, consequences, from pulled funding to eventual closure, could occur.

For decades, yeshivas have been protected and supported by key political players — first by then-State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and later by Sen. John Flanagan as Senate majority leader. Their biggest advocate was Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder.

But Skelos and Silver are gone, convicted of corruption-related charges, and Flanagan will lose the gavel when Democrats take control in January. Meanwhile, Felder, a Democrat who has caucused with Republicans, will be back in Albany — but marginalized now that his vote is not needed.

So, who will yeshivas turn to as their cheerleaders and protectors?

Neither Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie nor Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the likely Senate majority leader, figure to fill that role. State Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr., the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Education Committee, could chair the committee next year. Addabbo lives in Ozone Park and represents a district with several yeshivas, though they’re not on NYC’s list of troubled programs.

But it’s unlikely anyone will go to the lengths Felder did. In April, Felder added a last-minute amendment to the budget to protect ultra-Orthodox yeshivas by allowing them to avoid some of the state’s requirements. Advocates for oversight and standards are clamoring for Democrats to reverse that amendment next year.

Randi F. Marshall is a member of amNewYork’s editorial board.


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