OU Testimony in Support of NJ S.1929: Eliminating Restriction on Placement of Special Education Students in Sectarian Schools

Honorable Chairman and Members of the Committee:

My name is Nathan Diament and I am the Executive Director for Public Policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization.

The Orthodox Union represents scores of Jewish day schools and thousands of their students and parents across the Garden State, and I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to testify in support of S.1929 – legislation designed to deliver a measure of simple fairness to families with a child who requires a special education environment.

New Jersey statutes provide that a local board of education may contract with a nonpublic school for the provision of special education services to an eligible student.  However, current law bars the local school district from making such an arrangement with any parochial school.  S.1929 will amend New Jersey’s statutes to eliminate this discriminatory policy – and permit a local district and the parents of a special needs child to agree to have that child educated in a parochial school on the same terms as currently allowed for any other nonpublic school.  This policy change was proposed three years ago by the Study Commission on Nonpublic Schools established by Governor Corzine and endorsed by Governor Christie.

S.1929 is carefully crafted to ensure it operates within appropriate constitutional boundaries.

The legislation serves the fundamental right of parents to control the educational decisions for their children established in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925).

The legislation furthers the general, religion neutral policy of New Jersey to permit student placements in sectarian schools on the same terms as placements in other nonpublic schools, consistent with the neutrality principles embodied in Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947), Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), and Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills Sch. Dist., 509 U.S. 1 (1993).

Moreover, any public funds that flow to the sectarian school (even for exclusively secular educational services) do so based upon the private independent choice of parents, consistent with Agostini v. Felton, 512 U.S. 203 (1997).

Finally, by its terms, S.1929 restricts any state payments to parochial schools to reimbursements for secular, nonsectarian education services after an itemized statement is provided to the state.  This factor clearly ensures that the state will not get anywhere near funding sectarian education and services.

The expanded and equal access of special education services which will be created by the enactment of S.1929 is consistent with many other programs the State of New Jersey currently operates – which provide appropriate aid to the state’s thousands of students attending nonpublic and religious schools.  These include financial aid for the purchase of secular textbooks, nursing staff, transportation services and more.

In the State of New Jersey, one out of eight K-12 students are enrolled in nonpublic schools, yielding a savings to the state of nearly $3 billion annually.  Within the K-12 sector, students who require special education services deserve our consideration and support to provide them with educational opportunity in an environment that best suits their needs.  New Jersey has commendably realized that some students must be afforded their opportunities outside the public school system.  Students whose needs will be best served in parochial schools deserve the same opportunity and fair treatment.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and its thousands of New Jersey members asks you to support S.1929.

Thank You.