A committee of the New York State Board of Regents approved a proposal on Monday for the city's first Hebrew-language charter school, all but clearing the way for the school to open in Brooklyn's District 22 this fall. While the full board will consider the proposal on Tuesday, it is widely expected to echo the committee's approval.
The school, to be called the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School, would begin with 150 kindergartners and first graders, and is designed to eventually serve 675 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Students would be chosen by lottery, with preference for residents of the district, which includes the Sheepshead Bay, Mill Basin and Midwood neighborhoods.
Charter schools are publicly financed but independently operated, and this one is being backed by philanthropists including Michael H. Steinhardt, a former hedge fund manager who has given away some $200 million since retiring 13 years ago, much of it to programs aimed at boosting Jewish identity among young people. Mr. Steinhardt played a crucial role in creating Taglit-Birthright Israel, a program that has sent more than 200,000 Jews ages 18 to 26 on free trips to Israel since 1999.
Sara Berman, Mr. Steinhardt's daughter and a former parenting columnist for The New York Sun, is the charter school's lead applicant.
At Monday's meeting, eight members of the Regents committee that oversees charter schools voted in favor of the proposal. One regent, Betty A. Rosa, abstained, and another, Saul B. Cohen, voted against it.
Dr. Cohen questioned whether a Hebrew-language school was needed in a relatively high-performing district and whether a broad swath of students in the district, which is predominantly black, Hispanic and Asian, would be interested in learning Hebrew. (The district also includes neighborhoods with many Jewish immigrants from Russia and Israel.)
"It's a way of getting a good private school with public funds," Dr. Cohen said.
But another regent, Karen Brooks Hopkins, predicted that the school would have a "diverse population," describing the proposal as "excellent."
The school's planners have taken pains to assure state officials that it would not cross the church-state divide, and they are in negotiations with a candidate for principal who is not Jewish but who has experience in dual-language education.
The committee's approval of the Hebrew charter comes nearly two years after a series of protests engulfed the Khalil Gibran International Academy, the city's first public school dedicated to the Arabic language and culture. Khalil Gibran's founding principal resigned under pressure before the school opened, after giving a controversial newspaper interview.
Holly McKenna contributed reporting from Albany.