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Filler: Cuomo was right to veto special ed bill

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks at a news

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

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday issued a veto for which he's likely to take a lot of heat: he nixed a bill that would have made it much easier to place special education students in private religious schools at taxpayer expense. Worse, the bill would have made the religious nature of the schools a significant factor in deciding which children should attend them, based on the idea that students with special needs from religious homes can't learn as well in secular surroundings.

By dangling such a huge financial carrot, the bill might well have increased the number of religious students seeking to be designated as needing special education. It also would have increased the number of special-needs students attending private schools that lack state-approved programs to serve them.

The bill was passed quietly, at the end of the legislative session. It has tremendous support from Catholic and Jewish groups and faces opposition from teachers unions, school districts and the League of Women Voters.

The little-understood wrinkle in special education and private schools is this: When a child with special needs stays in public schools, the cost is absorbed as part of a district's normal budget. When such a student attends a private school with an appropriate state-approved program, the state pays 80 percent and the district pays 20 percent. But when that same student attends a private school that does not have an appropriate state-approved program, and is able to get approval to do so, the district picks up 100 percent of the tuition.

Allowing special education students to be placed in private schools by using religion and culture as criteria could put a lot more of them in places without state-approved programs, and take a lot more money out of district pockets.

So Cuomo was right to veto the bill, and if Assemb. Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn) and Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) try to get that veto overturned, lawmakers need to pay a little more attention to the specifics of this bill than they did last time it was before them, and send it down to a final defeat.