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COMMITTEE FOR PUB. EDUC. & RELIGIOUS LIBERTY v. LE

December 11, 1978

COMMITTEE FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, Bert Adams, Barbara Brook, Naomi Cowen, Robert B. Essex, Florence Flast, Charlotte Green, Helen Henkin, Martha Laties, Blanche Lewis, Ellen Meyer, Rev. Arthur W. Mielke, Edward D. Moldover, Aryeh Neier, David Seeley, Howard M. Squadron, Charles H. Sumner and Cynthia Swanson, Plaintiffs,
v.
Arthur LEVITT, as Comptroller of the State of New York, and Ewald B. Nyquist, as Commissioner of Education of the State of New York, Defendants, and Horace Mann-Barnard School, La Salle Academy, Long Island Lutheran High School, St. Michael School and Yeshivah Rambam, Intervenor-Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MANSFIELD

For the second time we are required to pass upon the constitutionality of Chapter 507, as amended by Chapter 508, of the 1974 Laws of New York ("the Statute"), which authorizes the State to reimburse private schools for the cost of performing certain state-mandated pupil testing and record keeping. The statute has its background in Levitt v. Committee for Public Education, 413 U.S. 472, 93 S. Ct. 2814, 37 L. Ed. 2d 736 (1973) (Levitt I ), where the Supreme Court struck down an earlier New York statute on the same subject as violative of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, on the grounds that it authorized State financing of tests prepared by sectarian school teachers which might be used for religious instruction and that the Statute had no auditing provisions designed to insure that sectarian schools would be reimbursed by the State only for secular services.

In 1974 the New York legislature responded by enacting the Statute presently under review, which sought to remedy the features found objectionable by the Supreme Court by providing for State preparation of the tests and auditing procedures to assure that private schools would be reimbursed only for these State-mandated services. Thereafter, in Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty v. Levitt, 414 F. Supp. 1174 (1976) (Levitt II ), we held that despite these changes the amended Statute did not pass muster under the Establishment Clause. *fn1" In doing so we relied heavily on Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U.S. 349, 95 S. Ct. 1753, 44 L. Ed. 2d 217 (1975), which postdated Levitt I. One year after our decision the Supreme Court decided Wolman v. Walter, 433 U.S. 229, 97 S. Ct. 2593, 53 L. Ed. 2d 714 (1977), following which it vacated our judgment in Levitt II and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of Wolman. Three justices voted to affirm our decision. 433 U.S. 902, 97 S. Ct. 2963, 53 L. Ed. 2d 1086 (1977). *fn2"

 Following remand we held an evidentiary hearing to receive proof relevant to the issues. With commendable cooperation the parties succeeded in agreeing upon the pertinent evidence which was then furnished to us in the form of a stipulation of facts and exhibits. Since Wolman has in our view relaxed some of Meek "s constitutional strictures against state aid to sectarian schools we now conclude, upon application of Wolman "s standards to the record before us, that amended Chapter 507 may be upheld as constitutional.

 The amended Statute, which became effective July 1, 1974, provides for reimbursement to private schools of the "actual cost" of complying with State requirements for public attendance reporting and the administration of State-prepared standardized examinations such as Regents examinations and the pupil evaluation program. These reports and tests are required of public and private schools alike and are designed to improve the educational program offered in New York schools.

 The Statute authorizes reimbursements for two categories of services: the administration of State-prepared examinations and the execution of State-required reporting procedures. The State prepares a large number of examinations for use in evaluating the quality of the education received in New York schools and the abilities of individual students. At the present time, most of these tests are administered within one of three major examination programs. First, there is the Pupil Evaluation Program (PEP), consisting of standardized reading and mathematics achievement tests. These tests must be administered to all students in grades 3 and 6. Tests for ninth grade students are also prepared for use by schools on an optional basis. These tests are entirely multiple-choice, objective examinations and can be graded by hand or machine. Complete instructional manuals for giving and scoring the examinations are furnished to the school by the State. The scores are returned by school personnel to the State Education Department.

 The second battery of tests are the comprehensive achievement tests (Regents "end-of-the-course" examinations) based on State courses of study for use in grades 9 through 12. Presently provided in 19 subjects, *fn3" these tests consist largely or entirely of objective questions with multiple-choice answers. Some of the examinations contain one or two essay questions or mathematical problems involving extended answers, which, of course, cannot be graded mechanically. Detailed instructional manuals are furnished by the State to schools for the administration of these exams and rating guides for their scoring of them. Each school is required to submit the passing and failing papers in certain subjects to the State Education Department for review. After the March/April and August exam dates, schools return all completed exam papers. In January and June a random sampling procedure is used by the State to select completed examination papers for review.

 The third principal set of examinations is the Regents Scholarship and College Qualification Test (RSCQT), which has been used as a basis for awarding scholarships to New York high school students and for admitting students to various units of the State University. All answer papers for the RSCQT are scored at the State Education Department.

 The Statute also authorizes reimbursements to private schools for the cost of preparing informational reports required by State law. Each year, private schools must submit to the State a Basic Educational Data System (BEDS) report. This report contains information regarding the student body, faculty, support staff, physical facilities, and curriculum of each school. Schools are also required to submit annually a report showing the attendance record of each minor who is a student at the school. N.Y.Educ.Law § 3211 (McKinney).

 Schools which seek reimbursement must "maintain a separate account or system of accounts for the expenses incurred in rendering" the reimbursable services, and they must submit to the N.Y. State Commissioner of Education an application for reimbursement with additional reports and documents prescribed by the Commissioner. Chapter 507, as amended, §§ 4-5. Reimbursable costs include proportionate shares of the teachers' salaries and fringe benefits attributable to administration of the examinations and reporting of State-required data on pupil attendance and performance, plus the cost of supplies and other contractual expenditures such as data processing services. Applications for reimbursement cannot be approved until the Commissioner audits vouchers or other documents submitted by the schools to substantiate their claims. §§ 6-7. The Statute further provides that the State Department of Audit and Control shall from time to time inspect the accounts of recipient schools in order to verify the cost to the schools of rendering the reimbursable services. If the audit reveals that a school has received an amount in excess of its actual costs, the excess must be returned to the State immediately. § 7. It is estimated that the reimbursements to private schools under the Statute will amount to $ 8,000,000 to $ 10,000,000 a year.

 The lion's share of the reimbursements to private schools under the Statute would be for attendance-reporting. According to applications prepared by intervenor-defendant private schools for the 1973-1974 school year, between 85% And 95% Of the total reimbursement is accounted for by the costs attributable to attendance-taking, of which all but a negligible portion represents compensation to personnel for this service. However, the total amount paid for these attendance-taking services amounted to only approximately 1% To 5.4% Of the total amount budgeted by the schools for salaries and fringe benefits.

 DISCUSSION

 The late Justice Harlan once observed that "it is far easier to agree on the purpose that underlies the First Amendment's Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses than to obtain agreement on the standards that should govern their application." Walz v. Tax Commission, 397 U.S. 664, 694, 90 S. Ct. 1409, 1424, 25 L. Ed. 2d 697 (1970). However, in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 91 S. Ct. 2105, 29 L. Ed. 2d 745 (1971), the Court established three criteria for a constitutional grant of State assistance to sectarian institutions: (1) the assistance program must have "a secular legislative purpose," (2) it must not have a "primary effect" of advancing or inhibiting religion, and (3) it must not excessively entangle the government in the affairs of sectarian institutions.

 This now familiar tripartite test may have given some orderliness to Establishment Clause analysis, but for the most part it has simply identified more precisely the areas of uncertainty. Unfortunately, Justice Harlan's observation is as appropriate now as it was in 1970. We still face confusing and imprecise dictates. However, in such additional light as is shed by Wolman, we believe that the Statute here does not transgress the "blurred, indistinct and variable" limitations imposed upon federal and state governments by the Establishment Clause. 403 U.S. at 614, 91 S. Ct. 2105.

 As in Levitt II, we can pass quickly over the first leg of the Establishment Clause test. The statute clearly manifests a secular legislative purpose. See 414 F. Supp. at 1178. The central issue, as frequently happens in cases involving the Establishment Clause, is whether the Statute has a "primary purpose" (which includes a "direct and immediate effect," Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756, 783 n. 39, 93 S. Ct. 2955, 37 L. Ed. 2d 948 (1973)), of advancing religion. In Levitt II we concluded that Meek v. Pittenger, supra, virtually mandated our holding that the Statute had such an effect, since the Supreme Court there ruled that "substantial aid to the educational function of (sectarian) schools . . . necessarily results in aid to the sectarian school enterprise as a whole." If, as seemed to be the case, the Court considered the secular and religious dimensions of education provided in sectarian schools to be inseparable, it appeared to us to follow that direct aid to such schools, "even though ostensibly limited to wholly neutral, secular instructional material and equipment, inescapably results in the direct and substantial advancement of religious activity." 421 U.S. at 366, 95 S. Ct. at 1764. We reasoned that ...


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