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Cuomo vetoes controversial special-education bill
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have made it easier to place special-education students in private schools at taxpayers’ expense.
The bill would have required school officials to consider religion and other family background when approving publcly-funded tuition for special-education students at private schools.
Catholic and Jewish groups pushed for the proposal, 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 - concerned about constitutional issues and unfunded mandates on already cash-strapped schools - had launched a petition to urge the governor to nix the bill. Teachers’ unions, school boards, school districts and even 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 – not family beliefs or culture. 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.”
“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,” Timothy Kremer, the association’s executive director, said in a statement. “This result is contrary to the pluralistic values upon which our public education system was established. Although we respect the personal choices that parents make to raise their children in accordance with their faith and culture, it would have been wrong to obligate taxpayers to pay for these private choices.”
Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) sponsored the bill, along with Assemb. Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn). Flanagan didn’t immediately return a call to comment.
Co-sponsors included Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach).