Cuomo Vetoes Bill on Placement of Special Education Students
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed a bill on Tuesday requiring public school officials to take into account the “home life and family background” of special education students when placing them in schools, a measure that would have given religious parents more power to demand that the public pay for private education.
In a message accompanying the veto, Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said the bill would have created “an overly broad and ambiguous mandate” to send more students to private schools, burdening taxpayers with “incalculable significant additional costs.”
Opponents of the measure, including the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and many school board associations, had argued that it would force school districts to pay for far more students to attend religious schools.
But the bill’s chief sponsor in the State Assembly, Helene Weinstein, Democrat of Brooklyn, issued a statement vowing to “continue the fight,” suggesting she would try to muster the two-thirds majority required to override the veto. The bill passed the Democratic-led Assembly with 93 votes, just 7 short of that threshold, and sailed through with more than two-thirds of the vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Supporters said the veto would disappoint thousands of families whose children would be better equipped to learn in surroundings compatible with their families’ practices and values, like Orthodox Jewish children who are not used to secular settings.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding about the legislation and what it would do,” Assemblywoman Weinstein said in a statement. “It is about parents of children with special needs not having to get a lawyer every year to fight for that which had been granted the previous year. It is about ensuring that parents of children with special needs are not waiting indefinitely for tuition reimbursements.”
James Cultrara, education director for the New York State Catholic Conference, said that if the veto were not overridden, supporters would push for a new version of the bill, perhaps drawn more narrowly to win over some opponents.
“We will work with everyone involved to craft it in a way that’s acceptable,” Mr. Cultrara said. But he added that he would have preferred the governor to approve the bill and then clarify it through corrections in the next session, rather than start the process over, disappointing some families who had hoped for new placements in the coming school year.
Courts have expanded parents’ rights to demand that school districts pay for private special education if public schools cannot meet a student’s needs. The bill would have expanded the definition of needs to include compatibility with the student’s home life, wording that opponents said could cover religious practices as well as food and clothing preferences.
In his veto message, Mr. Cuomo said his administration was committed to providing “the best education and assistance to every child in New York, including children with disabilities.”
“However,” he added, “this bill unfairly places the burden on taxpayers to support the provision of a private education.”
New York City now spends more than $100 million a year on private schooling for about 5,000 special education students. In a statement, Mayor Bloomberg said the bill would have constituted a new unfunded mandate for school districts across the state.
“With his veto,” Mr. Bloomberg said, “Governor Cuomo has once again shown his commitment to fiscal responsibility and to protecting both the city and state from unsustainable financial burdens.”