Gov. Andrew Cuomo nixes special-education bill

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks at a news

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks at a news conference in this file photo. (Credit: AP)

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ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have made it easier to place special-education students in private schools at taxpayer expense, administration officials said.

The bill would have forced school officials to consider religion and other family background when approving publicly funded tuition for special-education students at private schools.

Catholic and Jewish groups pushed for the new requirement, asserting that students from religious families are better educated in schools where dress codes and other rules conform to their beliefs. The state Senate and Assembly passed the measure in June during the final days of the regular 2012 legislative session.

Foes expressed concern about constitutional issues and unfunded mandates on already cash-strapped schools, and launched a petition to urge the governor to veto the bill. Teachers' unions, school boards, school districts and the League of Women Voters opposed the bill.

Cuomo agreed with the opponents, saying the bill would have "unfairly" burdened taxpayers to support private education.

"This constitutes an overly broad and ambiguous mandate that would result in incalculable, significant additional costs to be borne by every school district and taxpayer," Cuomo said in a veto message.

Currently, special-education students can be placed in private-school settings, based on a child's disability and a school district's programs. Cuomo said the proposed legislation would "significantly expand the scope of private placements and public reimbursement of private tuition costs."

The New York State School Boards Association applauded the veto, saying the proposal would have promoted "religious segregation."

Timothy Kremer, the association's executive director, said the bill "would have made a child's cultural and family background a factor in special education placements, thereby promoting religious segregation in special education placements at taxpayer expense."

He called the measure "contrary to the pluralistic values upon which our public education system was established."

Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) sponsored the bill, along with Assemb. Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn). Co-sponsors included Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach).

"I respect the governor's decision -- I just don't agree with it," said Flanagan, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. He said he'd heard from parents who have had trouble finding appropriate special-education placements for their children.

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