The type of clothing worn in a family's home, the language spoken and other cultural markers could influence whether special-education students receive taxpayer-funded private-school tuition, under a bill passed last month by the New York state Legislature.
Education officials would have to consider a student's "home environment and family background" when deciding the best setting for special-education children under the bill. Currently, decisions about private-school placement have generally been based on academics and the child's disability.
Opponents said the measure would burden public-school districts with new costs—up to $80,000 a year to educate a child with special needs at some private schools. It would also subsidize the growth of religious and cultural segregation in schools, opponents said.
"Placements for children with disabilities could be ordered to be made based upon the desires of a family to have their children segregated along religious lines," said Jay Worona, an attorney for the New York State School Boards Association.
The attempt to change the law was backed primarily by religious organizations such as the New York State Catholic Conference and Agudath Israel of America. Supporters said they have seen children with special needs clam up or tune out in unfamiliar settings.