NEW YORK (Sep. 5)
Programs of federal and state aid to pupils of Jewish and Christian religious schools in New York State were the targets today of charges of violations of the church-state separation principle and of discrimination against public school children.
The federal program provides funds under Title I of the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 for disadvantaged children of both public and non-public schools. The latter include Jewish and Christian day schools, which, in New York, are mainly in New York City. The state program provides funds for “lending” textbooks to religious school students. The New York State Textbook Loan Law has been declared unconstitutional by a State Supreme Court judge.
The American Jewish Congress charged yesterday that the New York City Board of Education had followed a “pattern of discrimination” against the city’s public schools in its proposals for distributing Title I funds, David Haber, a spokesman for the New York metropolitan council of the AJC, said the “discriminatory pattern” stemmed from the Board’s “avid efforts” to provide Title I funds and services to religious and other non-public school pupils in the city.
Dr. Haber, a Rutgers University law professor, charged that the Board favored nonpublic over public schools in the allocation of Title I funds, in provision for public school services and selection of schools for benefits,
17,000 PUPILS IN JEWISH DAY SCHOOLS SEEN AS TECHNICALLY ELIGIBLE
Jewish education sources have estimated that about 17,000 pupils in Jewish day schools in New York City are technically eligible for Title I aid. However, the Board of Education criteria for eligibility of non-public school pupils have been sharply criticized by Orthodox Jewish and Catholic education officials as certain to exclude a significant number of religious school pupils from such aid.
The New York Board of Education also appeared caught in a dilemma stemming from the fact that school districts in the state have been told they could still receive funds under the state textbook loan law, despite the fact that it has been declared unconstitutional.
Supreme Court Justice T. Paul Kane ruled on August 19 that the law violated the principle of church-state separation. However, Gov, Nelson A. Rockefeller told State Education Commissioner James E. Allen, in a letter, that the court ruling had been stayed by an appeal filed earlier last week by State Attorney Louis J. Lefkowitz.
The New York Board of Education reflected the confusion felt by some school districts in a comment by a spokesman who declined to say what the New York Board would do. The Board had planned, before the Kane ruling, to lend some $2,250,000 worth of books to Jewish and Christian religious school pupils. After Dr. Allen received the Governor’s letter, he notified all districts in New York State that they could now seek up to $15 a pupil for students in grades seven to 12 in both public and non-public schools.
The appeal will be heard this fall by the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court. The case is considered certain to be taken to the State Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court. A spokesman for the Governor’s office, responding to questions as to whether school districts could apply for aid under a law which might again or finally be ruled unconstitutional, said that any school district which applied for aid would be entitled to reimbursement, no matter what the courts finally decided.
Dr. Haber urged the New York City Board of Education to offer federal benefits for non-public school pupils “only through programs conducted on public school premises and only under public supervision and control.” Jewish and Catholic religious educators have contended that restriction of Title I benefits to programs restricted to public school premises would deprive many religious school pupils of help to which they would be entitled under the federal law.