New York City investigators began examining the city’s yeshivas in 2015 in response to complaints from graduates of the Yeshivas that they had not received an education that met state requirements. It is 2019 and there is still no report. Leonie Haimson writes about the growing suspicion that the de Blasio administration sat on the investigation in order to win key votes from Orthodox Jews and their allies in the Legislature on the renewal of mayoral control.

The report was finally released on December 19, four years after it was initiated.

Only two of the 28 ultra-orthodox yeshivas visited by the city Education Department over the past three years are providing an education that meets state legal standards, according to a long-awaited report released Thursday.

Schools examined by the city ran the gamut from teaching a full range of subjects in English, to offering no math or English courses, and providing students with no access to textbooks written in English. Of almost 140 elementary and middle school classes officials attended, about a third were taught exclusively in Yiddish, with the remainder taught in a mix of English and Yiddish.

The DOE classified 8 of the 28 schools as well on their way to meeting the state standard of providing an education “substantially equivalent” to the one offered in public schools. Another 12 met parts of the criteria, and five schools had almost no overlap with the requirements.

Naftuli Moster, the executive director of YAFFED, a group dedicated to reforming ultra-orthodox yeshiva education, said the report “reaffirms what we already know: That tens of thousands of children in New York City, including those in nearly 40 Yeshivas the city investigated and those which the city failed to monitor for decades, are being denied a basic education as required by law.”

Here is another report, this one in The Forward, a Jewish-oriented newspaper. 

The mixture of religion and the state is always volatile.

The Yeshiva graduates who demanded the investigation said they had not learned secular subjects, they had learned most of the curriculum in Hebrew, and they were ill-equipped to function in contemporary society.

Why did it take four years to investigate 28 schools?

The NYC publication Gothamist reported:

Probe Finds De Blasio Administration Stalled Report on Academic Standards at Yeshivas

The de Blasio administration engaged in political maneuvering to stall the release of a report on education standards in Hasidic yeshivas, according to city investigators. A joint report from the Department of Investigations and the Special Commissioner of Investigation for city schools released Wednesday found representatives of the mayor and state legislators took part in “political horse trading” in 2017 as part of a ploy to delay an interim Department of Education report on whether the yeshivas were proving education on par with the city’s public schools.

The effort was part of a plan to secure support for extending mayoral control for city schools, investigators found, which was approved by the legislature in 2017. But investigators determined the agreement “had no substantial effect on the inquiry’s conclusion or the progress of the inquiry,” which was delayed by several other factors, according to a statement from the Department of Investigations, including a generally accommodative stance by the DOE to the yeshivas it was attempting to investigate.

Investigators did not determine whether the mayor personally approved the delay of the DOE report, but the statement noted, “the totality of evidence did indicate the Mayor was aware that the offer to delay had been made.” The report concluded that no laws were violated. The final report from the DOE has still not been released, though de Blasio administration officials indicated it would be coming soon, years after it was promised.

In a statement following the revelations Wednesday, Naftuli Moster, executive director of YAFFED, an educational advocacy group operating in Orthodox Jewish communities, said, “What a disgrace. The DOI/SCI investigation shows the City is willing to trade away the education of tens of thousands of students for power and political influence. These findings also raise concerns as to whether the City will provide an accurate assessment of what is happening inside Yeshiva schools when it finally releases its report.”
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Haimson writes:

It is hard to know which is more toxic – the system of autocratic mayoral control which I and others critiqued at Assembly hearings this week;  or the damaging political deals the Mayor has made to keep it – which include not just a delay in issuing a report on the Yeshivas in 2017,  but also that same year, his agreement to an increase in the number of NYC charter schools. 

Before that, as part of the deal to extend mayoral control in 2014 , de Blasio agreed to either co-locate charter schools in public school buildings or help pay for rent in private buildings – a legal obligation which no other district in the state or the nation has been saddled with, and that the DOE is now spending more than $100M per year on.

A question which the DOE/SCI statement does not answer is why the DOE inquiry into the Yeshivas was still in its early stages in June 2017 – given that the initial complaint was made in the July 2015.  See Yaffed’s timeline here.

Another question is what is now holding up the release of the DOE’s final report, given that that the DOE visits to Yeshivas concluded last spring and that  “Although the DOE has now visited all 28 yeshivas [originally named in the complaint that are still open], more than four years after the initial complaints, the DOE’s Inquirycontinues.”

If the visits ended last spring, why does the DOE Inquiry continue and why has no report has yet been issued?  No explanation is provided.

All this makes one suspect that the political influence of the ultra-Orthodox community with the Mayor and City Hall continues to hamper DOE’s actions and reporting on this issue.

If the United States Supreme Court rules against state prohibitions on vouchers for religious schools in the coming term, the public will fund many such schools, including those governed by all religious groups that will step forward to claim their share of the public purse.

If the Supreme Court decides that the state must pay for religious schools, will the state also have the power to regulate those schools and require that they teach subjects in English and meet the same academic standards as other publicly-funded schools?