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NYC English schools force turnaround in new law

Legislation that could have damaged private English schools in New York State has been put on hold after a final hour reprieve from the state education department. The New York English Schools Association (NYESA) is hailing the move a victory after it campaigned against a bill that could have seen costly financial auditing requirements and its members banned from running courses considered as outside of their remit (such as business English).

Rennert International Language School students in New YorkRennert International Language School students in New York

Key concerns were that schools would be forced to undertake costly financial audits to achieve the required state licensing

After a number of senators backed NYESA’s fight, chief operating officer of the State Education Department, Valerie Grey, sent a memo promising alterations to the bill – just hours before it was passed into law. She will hold a series of working groups with ESL schools to thrash out better regulations over summer and the bill could be revised by August.

Bonita Vander, director of Manhattan Language and board member of NYESA, told The PIE News that the state was going to wrongly group ESL schools with vocational and business schools under bill S.4268-C. She said there was no clear understanding over what new ‘alternate certification requirements’ would mean and that the state had already begun to wrongly apply its reading of the bill in some cases.

Key concerns were that schools would be forced to undertake costly financial audits to achieve the required state licensing – raising costs of just $1,500 for a mid-size school to $15,000 (one English language school is known to have wrongly undergone the audit this spring).

Schools could have been forced to undertake costly financial audits and shut courses

English language schools could also have been stopped from accepting short-term enrolments – a common practice in the ELT industry worldwide – or from running courses such as Business English because they sounded too similar to programmes taught at community colleges or career schools.

Said Vander: “In the bill, [the state] defined career schools and ESL schools as separate, but when they talk about regulations they don’t always say this pertains to career schools only. If a regulation says it pertains to ‘all’ schools it becomes very difficult to show it shouldn’t apply to us.”

NYESA, which represents 13 leading language schools in New York, has welcomed the reprieve but says it falls short of its long held goal to be fully exempt from state regulation (an issue also affecting ELS schools in California).

“Whatever oversight the state education provided, it’s just redundant and irrelevant now”

Since the introduction of the 2010 national Accreditation Act, schools have had to seek approval from a regional accrediting body to continue issuing I-20 visas (needed to enroll international students) and no longer view state licensing as necessary.

“Having gone through the federal accreditation process from scratch I understand that whatever oversight the state education provided as far as protecting the rights of consumers and students, it’s just redundant and irrelevant now,” commented Vander.

Eimear Harrison, chief executive of Rennert International and another NYSEA board member, said the schools would continue to push for exemption but weren’t hopeful. “We are quietly seeing this as a victory of sorts… It doesn’t get us exempt, but that was a long shot anyway. But this is definitely a step in the right direction.”

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