As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis continues his program of diverting public education funds to charter schools run by Christian conservative ideologues, New York City can offer a cautionary tale of what can go wrong with such government-subsidized religious schooling. In a blockbuster piece, New York Times reporters Eliza Shapiro and Brian Rosenthal shine a light into the secretive and extremely lucrative world of the private schools run by the city’s Hasidic community.
“The leaders of New York’s Hasidic community have built scores of private schools to educate children in Jewish law, prayer and tradition—and to wall them off from the secular world. Offering little English and math, and virtually no science or history, they drill students relentlessly, sometimes brutally, during hours of religious lessons conducted in Yiddish.”
Not surprisingly, the result has been an academic disaster. The schools have long resisted outside scrutiny of their educational quality. In 2019, many of them relented, subjecting their students to the same standardized tests in reading and math that public-school kids get. At the largest of them all, the Central United Talmudical Academy in Brooklyn, every one of its 1,000 students failed, the reporters found. Altogether, student performance at the Hasidic-run schools badly lagged behind that of its peers across the city, as this chart shows.
And while New York’s private schools don’t receive public education funds, city and state agencies do pay private schools to “comply with government mandates and manage social services,” Shapiro and Rosenthal report. At the Hasidic boys’ schools alone, these institutions “have found ways of tapping into enormous sums of government money, collecting more than $1 billion in the past four years alone.” One such program, an NYC initiative to help low-income families attain child care, “now sends nearly a third of its total assistance to Hasidic neighborhoods, even while tens of thousands of people have languished on waiting lists.”
As the schools rake in public cash, they churn out “generations of children [who] have been systematically denied a basic education, trapping many of them in a cycle of joblessness and dependency,” the reporters conclude.
That’s a bracing result to contemplate as more states, including Tennessee, follow Florida’s lead by propping up charter schools developed by Michigan-based Christian college Hillsdale. Back in New York, as one student told The Times about his experience in a Hasidic school, “I don’t know how to put into words how frustrating it is,” he said. “I thought, ‘It’s crazy that I’m literally not learning anything. It’s crazy that I’m 20 years old, I don’t know any higher order math, never learned any science.’”