Two weeks ago, Capital Tonight reported on the long-standing civil rights issues facing the East Ramapo Central School District.

This Rockland County district is home to 30,000 white students, of which 99% attend private Yeshivas, and 9,000 students of color, of which 96% attend public school.

The school board is dominated by ultra-Orthodox board members which, according to several fiscal monitors, has funded bussing and special education for the Yeshivas, to the detriment of the public schools where teachers and programs have been cut, graduation rates have fallen and where nearly 47% of students are considered chronically absent.

While the state Board of Regents has installed a fiscal monitor to watch how the board allocates resources since 2014, things haven’t gotten much better for the public-school children. It’s one reason why the NAACP and the New York Civil Liberties Union sued the district in federal court. The groups won, and now East Ramapo has to change how it elects members of the school board.  

But there is another option. 

Assemblyman Mike Lawler of Pearl River has introduced a bill to change how the district pays for mandated services. His bill is the “Educational Equity and Choice Act.” He explained how it would work.

“For all of the services mandated by New York State, bussing, books, special education, New York State would be responsible to pay for those services,” Lawler told Capital Tonight

Currently, the state reimburses districts for part of those costs. 

“Let’s take that out of the public school system, and ensure that those children who do attend private schools get the services that they’re entitled to, but do it through the Department of Education,” Lawler said.

According to the Rockland County Times, Lawler has introduced two versions of this bill — one that would apply statewide, and one that would only apply to districts where 65% or more of the students residing in the district are enrolled in private schools.

Both of Lawler’s bills have been introduced in the Assembly, but neither has been assigned a bill number. The legislative session ends on Thursday.