New York Blocks Payments to 20 Firms That Serve Hasidic Schools
Good morning. It’s Friday. We’ll look at a policy change that has stopped payments to some education firms that serve Hasidic schools. We’ll also meet two theatrical performers and producers who are opening their own space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
David C. Banks, the New York City schools chancellor.Credit…Benjamin Norman for The New York Times
New York City education officials are blocking payments to 20 companies that provide education services, primarily for students in yeshivas.
The move marks a change in the city’s approach to education contracting, particularly in cases involving parents of private school students with disabilities who seek city-funded services. While there is a process — parents must ask a hearing officer to order the funding — the city has until now assented to most such requests. Now it will fight those that would channel payments to any of the 20 companies.
My colleagues Brian M. Rosenthal and Eliza Shapiro write that together, the firms collected $60 million to provide special education last year alone.
The shift comes after Martin Handler, an executive at some of the city’s top-earning special education providers, was arrested last month and charged with stealing millions in public money that was supposed to go for early education for low-income children. He has pleaded not guilty.
Officials say the 20 firms all have ties to Handler or at least one of his co-defendants. Two of the companies are linked to Handler in public records — Special Education Associates and Kids Domain Childcare Centers — and operate from the same building in Borough Park, Brooklyn, as Handler’s child care businesses.
Handler’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment, nor did representatives of many of the companies now shut out of funding.
The indictment of Handler and his co-defendants, and the city order barring payments to the 20 companies, followed a New York Times article in December that revealed that many special education providers in the Orthodox Jewish and Hasidic communities had received a windfall of taxpayer money in recent years. The money covered services that were sometimes not needed or even provided. In response to the article, city officials said they were scrutinizing requests more closely.
The Times had reported in September that scores of Hasidic boys’ yeshivas across Brooklyn and the lower Hudson Valley have collected about $1 billion in taxpayer money in recent years while failing to provide their students with a basic secular education.
Last month, the state Education Department told Mayor Eric Adams’s administration that a long-delayed investigation into the quality of secular education at more than two dozen Hasidic yeshivas in Brooklyn must be completed by June. That was the latest signal that the state is stepping up pressure on the city to improve yeshiva education. Betty Rosa, the state education commissioner, ruled in October that one Brooklyn yeshiva was violating a state law requiring private schools to provide basic English and math instruction. That ruling overturned an earlier determination by the city that the school was in compliance.
This week Nathaniel Styer, a spokesman for the Education Department, said the city would meet the deadline set by Rosa. He said that officials have visited all the yeshivas in the original complaint and plan to visit each school at least once more.
The criminal case against Handler and his co-defendants could take months to work its way through the court system. According to an indictment unsealed last month in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, he stole money through child care firms, some of them secretly owned, including by creating what prosecutors called a “fake after-school program” and billing for services that he never provided. Handler used the money to deal out no-show jobs, buy real estate and purchase an array of historical religious artifacts at auctions, prosecutors said.
The weather is whipsawing us. January was the warmest ever recorded in Central Park, with an average temperature of 43.5 degrees, almost 10 degrees above normal, according to the National Weather Service. Groundhog Day brought a split verdict: Staten Island Chuck predicted an early spring, according to the Staten Island Zoo, where he lives. But Punxsutawney Phil, in Pennsylvania, delivered a prolonged-winter prognostication by emerging from his tree stump and seeing his shadow.
Spring is weeks away. For now, a cold blast is coming, with a chance of morning flurries and a high in the mid-20s. At night, expect blustery winds and temperatures around the low teens.
In effect until Feb. 13 (Lincoln’s Birthday).
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Arts & Culture
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A performance space of their own
Isaac Bush said that he and Alex Orthwein decided during the pandemic that “as early-to-mid-30-somethings, it’s our turn to start commanding the ship.”
First they had to find one to command, but not literally. They were looking for a theater space. Bush had been the artistic director of the Circle Theater of New York. Orthwein had been a writer or performer whose credits include some small television roles and a sketches in which he played Donald Trump.
After scouting locations in Manhattan and then almost settling on a place in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, they found a 6,500-square-foot space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for what they christened Brooklyn Art Haus. They envision it as an incubator modeled on the Young Vic in London or the Schabühne in Berlin, “gathering spaces where artists can be in the community and commingle and see work that is innovative and topical and speaking to the moment,” Bush said.
Orthwein picked up the thread: “We started by doing apartment salons, having a show and celebrating afterward” before the pandemic. They want Brooklyn Art Haus to be a one-stop experience.
“Rather than taking it to the bar next door” after a performance, the cast and the audience can celebrate by “taking it to the bar that’s right there,” steps from their 99-seat performance space, which is steps from rehearsal studios, a podcast studio and kitchen. Brooklyn Art Haus can also serve as a multimedia space with a rotating gallery. They started with an exhibition of works by graffiti and street artists last fall.
They said they would not charge artists upfront to stage their works, as most performance spaces do.
“When the arts community is talking about work that is inclusive, work that is diverse, a big part is taking away the cost barrier,” Bush said, explaining that Brooklyn Art Haus could do that with the revenue from the food and beverage operation and the studio space.
“We’re trying to create a really quality experience without charging the $500 price of a Broadway ticket,” he said. They have put out a call for submissions for projects, with the goal of presenting the first late next month.
I was making my regular morning commute from my home in Park Slope to my office in Midtown Manhattan.
While I was waiting for the F train at the Seventh Avenue stop, I saw my friend Ronit, a talented musician, on her way to her day job.
When the train arrived, we found two seats together. The train continued to fill up as it headed into Manhattan, but it was much less crowded by the time we got to 23rd Street.
At that point, a seat opened up next to us, and an older woman began to make her way toward it. The train began moving and jolted her right into our laps. She gathered herself, apologized and took the empty seat.
Ronit and I got off at Rockefeller Center. As we began to go our separate ways, she turned to me.
“At least I can tell my boss that I’m late because Patti Smith fell on my lap,” she said.
— Doug Schneider
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you on Monday. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Melissa Guerrero, Emmett Lindner, Andy Newman and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org