Group sues state over yeshivas
GROUP SUES STATE FOR GREATER YESHIVA OVERSIGHT — POLITICO’s Madina Touré: An organization seeking to reform curricula in yeshivas is suing the state over legislation that, in the group’s view, protects the schools from proper oversight. The organization — Young Advocates for Fair Education, also known as Yaffed — filed the suit on Monday morning in Brooklyn federal court. It named Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa as defendants. Lawyers from the firm of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan are representing Yaffed pro bono.
“Ultra-orthodox yeshivas, by our estimates, receive hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year,” said Naftuli Moster, Yaffed’s founder and executive director, at a press conference in Manhattan announcing the lawsuit.”This is clearly a problem and a problem that elected officials in New York have known about for decades and instead of improving the situation, the state allowed one lawmaker, Simcha Felder, who represents the interests of yeshiva leaders, to hijack the state budget process to ensure inclusion of an amendment that exempts ultra-Orthodox yeshivas statewide from having to provide a proper secular education,” Moster continued.
Felder, a Democratic state senator from Brooklyn who has been caucusing with Senate Republicans since he was elected in 2012, was accused of holding up the $168 billion state budget earlier this year until the state acquiesced to his request for yeshivas to be exempt from curriculum requirements. He provides the Senate GOP with a key 32nd vote. The final budget gave the state Education Department the authority to address the issue for bilingual teaching for a greater number of hours, a requirement that yeshivas fulfill.
The group contends that the state’s action flouts the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bans the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion” or “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
“The carve-out in the Felder Amendment is actually defined in a way that only those ultra-Orthodox yeshivas are included within that carve-out,” said Eric Huang, lead counsel for Yaffed. “These are defined by the fact that they’re nonprofits, that they have a bilingual program and that their education program is marked by very long days.” Read more here.