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The money religious elementary and high schools receive from New York state is at an all-time high, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says.
Cuomo made the claim at a student rally for the Orthodox Union, an organization that advocates on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish community. The group brought hundreds of students to the state capital to call for more state investment in private schools.
"My opinion is I aggressively support the religious schools," Cuomo said. "My budget reflects that. I’ve given the religious schools in my budget more money than ever before in history. We did that last year, and we’ll do it again this year."
Cuomo sounded a different note in February at a rally in Buffalo.
"We don’t subsidize private high schools," Cuomo said. "We have public high schools. If you want to go to a private high school, you go to a private high school."
So, which is it? Is the state giving more money to religious schools than ever before?
Aid for private schools
State lawmakers approved close to $192 million for non-public school in last year’s budget.
The largest aid category reimburses schools for the costs of state mandates, like administering state tests and reporting data. That cost the state $104 million last year.
The second largest program reimburses the schools for the cost of taking attendance throughout the school day as students change classes. Last year’s budget gave private schools close to $70 million for this cost.
The state also provided significant aid for school safety equipment at non-public schools in recent years, starting in 2013. Non-public schools received $15 million last year, triple the amount given in 2013.
The state provides $922,000 annually for additional academic support services for struggling students in non-public schools. That amount has remained steady since 2010.
Private schools were also given $2 million last year to support the state Office of Religious and Independent Schools in the state Education Department.
The most money the state gave to private schools before Cuomo took office totaled $128.4 million in the 2007-2008 budget under then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, according to the state Division of Budget.
That aid dropped to about $110 million in 2010, the year Cuomo was elected. The aid fell to $101.3 million in Cuomo's first budget. Since then, state aid to private schools has almost doubled.
Cuomo this year proposes another increase to $197.7 million in base aid for private schools. He proposes an extra $30 million in back payments for the cost of taking attendance, bringing his requested total aid to about $228 million.
The state said it would start reimbursing private schools for attendance costs in 2004 but didn’t set aside funding for the program until the 2007-2008 budget. Cuomo’s plan gives these schools $30 million in this year’s budget, with a plan for $30 million more next year to correct the lag.
Cuomo recently announced a proposal to give an additional $10 million to non-public schools for security costs, over the $15 million already included in his proposed budget. That addition would raise state spending to $238 million for private schools.
The state spending per non-public student has also increased since Cuomo took office. The state spent about $218 per non-public student in Cuomo’s first budget. The per-student figure was $374 in the past school year.
The state spends $9,330 per public school student on average.
Non-religious private schools
Most private schools in New York are affiliated with a religion, but some are not.
In the 2015-2016 school year, about 459,000 students attended 1,752 private schools in New York according to data from the state Education Department. Close to 89,000, or about 19 percent of those students attended 495 schools not affiliated with a religion.
The state Division of Budget does not track separate data on aid given to religious versus independent non-public schools.
"I’ve given the religious schools in my budget more money than ever before in history," Cuomo says.
Numbers from the state Division of Budget agree with Cuomo’s claim. He proposes more money for non-public schools in his budget this year than the state has ever before.
Granted, not all private schools are religious. About one out of every five private students attend an independent non-public school.
But we found no indication the state is treating religious schools differently than the non-religious private schools, so we rate his claim True.
Gov. Cuomo Delivers Remarks at Buffalo State College, Feb. 7, 2017
Email conversation and data from Morris Peters at the Division of Budget
Email conversation and data from Jonathan Berman at the state Education Department
Non-public enrollment data from the state Education Department, Accessed Mar. 2, 2017
"Where does the money go?" Dec. 5, 2017, New York State Association of School Business Officials, Accessed March 3, 2017
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