The opinion of the court was delivered by: LASKER
We are called upon to determine the constitutionality of Chapter 138 of New York State's laws of 1970, which appropriates $28,000,000 to be paid to non-public schools for expenses incurred in complying with requirements of state law of which the principal are the testing of pupils and maintenance of attendance and health records.
In 1970 there were 850,000 students in nonpublic schools in New York. Chapter 138 includes the following legislative finding:
"That the state has a primary responsibility to assure that its precious resource, the young people of the state, receive educational opportunity which will prepare them for the challenges of American life in the last decades of the twentieth century.
"That the state has the duty and authority to provide the means to assure through examination that inspection, and through other activities, that all of the young people of the state, regardless of the school in which they are enrolled, are attending upon instruction as required by the education law and are maintaining levels of achievement which will adequately prepare them, within their capabilities.
"That these fundamental objectives are accomplished with respect to public schools in part through the provision by the state of aid to local school districts to meet such costs."
Plaintiffs are taxpayers of New York and an unincorporated association whose members are New York residents whose objectives include opposition to use of public funds for the support of sectarian or religious schools. Defendants are the Commissioner of Education, who administers the statute, and the State Comptroller, who makes payment of the appropriated funds. Intervenors are Catholic and Jewish parochial schools who are beneficiaries of the Act.
The record contains defendants' and intervenors' answers to plaintiffs' interrogatories. No factual disputes exist.
Plaintiffs sue to enjoin the enforcement of the statute. Defendants move for judgment, claiming that the statute violates neither the federal nor the state constitution, and to dismiss the complaint on the ground that it raises a threshold question of violation of the constitution of the State of New York.
The statute, which became effective July 1, 1970, directs the Commissioner of Education to apportion annually to nonpublic schools the sum of $27 for each pupil in average daily attendance in the first six grades and $45 for those in grades seven through twelve. The express purpose of the expenditure, as indicated above, is to compensate the schools for services "mandated" by state law or regulation of the Commissioner. These services include administration of compulsory attendance laws, Regents' examinations, and pupil evaluation program tests, as well as preparation of various reports intended to assure that minimum state educational standards are met. The services rendered are required of public and nonpublic schools alike.
The Act is construed and applied by the defendants to include as permissible beneficiaries schools which (a) impose religious restrictions on admissions; (b) require attendance of pupils at religious activities; (c) require obedience by students to the doctrines and dogmas of a particular faith; (d) require pupils to attend instruction in the theology or doctrine of a particular faith; (e) are an integral part of the religious mission of the church sponsoring it; (f) have as a substantial purpose the inculcation of religious values; (g) impose religious restrictions on faculty appointments; and (h) impose religious restrictions on what or how the faculty may teach. (Answer to Interrogatory 7).
The beneficiary schools are required neither to account for nor return to the state any amounts received by them in excess of their actual expenditures for "mandated services." (Answers to Interrogatories 4, 7 and 11). This, of course, leaves a school free to expend any excess for whatever purpose it wishes, including religious or sectarian objectives.
Since the statute is predicated -- and its constitutionality allegedly justified -- on the ground that it merely reimburses the nonpublic schools for expenses of state-mandated services, post-enactment studies have been conducted comparing the actual cost to the schools of performing services with the amounts allocated to them by the state. The conclusions to be drawn from such reports (Exhibit D to Defendant Nyquist's Answers to Plaintiffs' Interrogatories) are cloudy. If such items as "teacher examinations" and "entrance examinations" are included in the list of "mandated services," it appears that the schools' expenses are at least as great as the amounts they receive from the state. But if those items are excluded, the amounts received from the state are substantially greater than the schools' expenses. Doubt as to which ...