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New York’s most powerful elected officials had little to say about a hit New York report Time in failing Hasidic Jewish private schools. Others ignored the results, obscured them, or took a narrower approach. Few have called for change. Given the political realities at play, none of this was really a surprise.
The Time The investigation revealed what many in New York’s educational and political circles had long suspected: a wide range of Hasidic Jewish institutions barely teach math, English, science or history. Among Hasidic yeshivas who administered state-standardized tests — religious schools are not required to administer the tests and many do not — the failure rate was 99%, according to a Time analysis. These tests were given to boys because Hasidic yeshivas segregate students by gender, providing girls with a more secular education while boys focus primarily on religious instruction.
In addition to poor education standards, Time found that these yeshivas still relied on corporal punishment. In some schools, boys have called 911 after being beaten. There is also the reality of isolation and alienation: for Hasidic boys and men who may want to leave the community and venture into the secular world, their lack of education severely limits what they can TO DO. Many cannot read or write properly in English.
These facts are damning in themselves, but they are becoming a public issue because Hasidic yeshivas receive state money – at least $1 billion over the past four years, according to the Time. It’s a small fraction of what the city and state send to public schools — the city’s Department of Education budget alone is $38 billion — but it’s enough to theoretically make them accountable to the many elected Democrats who are completely unaware of their failure. Taxpayer money is not supposed to be channeled into religious education, but public bodies pay private schools to comply with government mandates and run various social services. Hasidic yeshivas access these programs, raising public funds as a grant.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, vying for re-election this fall, dodged the question completely, dishonestly claiming that public education was not her problem at all. “People understand that this is not within the jurisdiction of the governor. There is a regulatory process in place, but the governor’s office has nothing to do with it,” she said, referring to the State Board of Regents, which oversees standards in the state. (On Tuesday, the council announced that Hasidic yeshivas and other private schools in New York must prove they teach subjects such as English, math, science and history. Any school found to be non-compliant could lose government funding.) While the board oversees the Department of Education and its members are appointed by the state legislature, the governor has great power, thanks to his bullying pulpit and his control over the enormous state budget, to influence education policy. If Hochul cared, she could announce her own investigation or pressure the Council of Regents into taking more aggressive action. Like Andrew Cuomo, her disgraced predecessor, she abdicated responsibility.
Mayor Eric Adams also kicked in, though he at least claimed a long-delayed city investigation into poor yeshiva standards was underway. “I’m not concerned about the conclusions of the article,” he said. “I want a thorough investigation. I want an independent review and that’s what the city needs to do. And we’re going to watch that. For Adams, the political calculus is clear. As a state senator, he represented the Hasidic community of Crown Heights and maintained close ties with Orthodox Jewish leaders in his rise to power. In 2021, he aggressively competed with Andrew Yang for votes in those enclaves.
Two members of Congress, Hakeem Jeffries and Jerry Nadler, told the Time they were troubled by the conclusions of the story. “It is a primary duty of government to ensure that all children – whether educated in parochial, private or public schools – receive a quality education,” said Nadler, the leading Jewish member of New York. in the room. He currently represents Hasidic communities in Borough Park, Brooklyn, though his new district will phase them out entirely next year. Jeffries, who also has close ties to the Jewish community and represents a Brooklyn neighborhood not far from the Hasidic enclave of Crown Heights, called for “a rigorous investigation to ensure that the health and well-being of all children are protected”. .”
But neither Jeffries nor Nadler have the power to tell the difference. It’s a matter of city and state, with local authorities having the most say. Few, despite the results, want to invoke the political will to force Hasidic yeshivas to meet basic standards in math and reading. (Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand were silent.) That’s partly because Hasidic sects control small but influential voting blocks in parts of the city and county of Rockland. For ambitious Democrats, courting them has always been paramount, especially in a time when there are fewer and fewer power brokers who can control hundreds or thousands of votes. An influential Hasidic rabbi can order members of his sect to vote at the same rate. Other politicians worry about perceptions of anti-Semitism; for advocates of Hasidic education, any attack on their standards amounts to a general attack on the Jewish people. The Time was wrongly accused of anti-Semitism.
Local elected officials were as expected. Adams’ successor as Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso has been ridiculed online for a statement link the flight of Hasidic Jews from the Holocaust to a failure, decades later, to impose basic secular education in classrooms. “Less than 100 years ago, during the Holocaust, the Jewish people were virtually extinct. Many came to New York not to preserve their way of life, but to revive it,” he tweeted. “Our city has been supportive and rightfully extended courtesy to them in this mission. Education is extremely important to my administration. As such, our office will work with community leaders to ensure that all children have access to high quality education.The statement was generalized and largely meaningless, ignoring the specific findings of the Time investigation or complaints from Hasidic activists that their children were not properly educated in math, science, or reading.
Reynoso has caused anger because he, unlike Adams or Hochul, is aligned with the city’s progressive Democrats. He was a longtime Working Families Party Democrat. He is also ambitious and will probably want to run for higher positions. Another progressive ally and Reynoso, council member Lincoln Restler, was entirely silent, posting no tweets or public statements. Restler District includes the Satmar Hasidic community, one of the most politically powerful Hasidic sects in the country.
For other progressives with no intention on another desk — or those who don’t have to answer to Hasidic voters — the statements of condemnation were clearer. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan state senator, was openly furious. “As a legislator, as a taxpayer and as a Jew, I am horrified that we continue to let this system grow out of control, and do so with hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money,” he said. she declared. “Each of these students has a constitutional right to a good basic education, and they have been denied that right. They are denied the ability to learn English, math, science and other fundamental skills needed to survive in our society. This must stop.
However, two state legislators who operate to Krueger’s left were not so damnable. Julia Salazar, state senator, and Emily Gallagher, state deputy, both belong to the Democratic Socialists of America and represent overlapping Brooklyn districts. Each of them, like Restler, owns the satmar Hasidic enclave within the boundaries of their district. In 2020, Gallagher narrowly beat an incumbent who had the support of both Satmar sects in the Williamsburg and Greenpoint districts. Since then, she has sought to forge closer ties with community leaders. Salazar, likewise, worked more closely with Satmar leaders.
The two legislators issued a joint statement which focused much more on allegations of corporal punishment – a chilling element of the Time story, but not the main focus – only catastrophic education standards. The students’ glaring inability to write well in English or perform math was alluded to in the last sentence of the statement, but not specifically. “Child abuse is unacceptable, and we are drafting legislation to clarify that corporal punishment is prohibited in all educational settings, including private and religious schools,” they said. After noting that they were proud to represent Williamsburg in the legislature and an often “misunderstood and maligned” Hasidic community, the two added that they “unequivocally reject the idea that religious freedom and respect for tradition require the denial of basic education to which every man has a fundamental right. Fair enough. But limiting physical violence in the classroom, which Hasidic leaders do not necessarily openly support, is quite different than telling them that they will have to radically change the way they educate boys.For Salazar and Gallagher, this is an easy way out.
Will Hasidic yeshivas provide adequate secular education in the future? As welcome as the new Board of Regents rules may be, it will be up to local school districts to enforce them. And the rules are vague enough – no minimum time for secular education or a clear timetable for schools to comply – that they can be circumvented. Since many Hasidic children attend city schools, it will be up to the Adams Department of Education to decide whether math and reading standards will be raised there. If he wants to act, he will come up against a community that has long been in his political camp. That kind of courage — for Adams or most local politicians — is usually rare.