Walking through the halls of the Pennsylvania statehouse on Wednesday, 300 members of Pennsylvania’s Jewish community, including 200 high school students, conveyed to legislators how indispensable the Commonwealth’s tax credit programs and the security legislation are for Jewish day schools. The advocacy mission to Harrisburg was organized by the Pennsylvania team of OU Advocacy, the Orthodox Union’s non-partisan public policy arm.
The Educational Improvement Tax Credit program and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program provide millions of dollars each year in scholarships for low- and middle-income families across Pennsylvania. For some Jewish day schools, this funding is a lifeline—with as much as 40 percent of their students receiving scholarships through the EITC and OSTC programs. Pennsylvania’s Safe School Legislation provides funding for school security funding and is the first legislation of its kind to allow schools to use the funding for security personnel.
With a budget deficit of more than $1 billion, however, every line item in Pennsylvania’s budget is at risk of being cut. The Commonwealth’s budget will be approved at the end of the month.
OU Advocacy brought representatives from Jewish communities throughout the state, including Philadelphia, Scranton, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, to the statehouse. The high school students were from Kohelet Yeshiva High School and Kosloff Torah Academy, both located in the Philadelphia area. In addition, participating parents and school administrators represented a wide cross-section of other Jewish day schools, including the Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia, Jack M. Barrack High School (Greater Philadelphia), Perelman Jewish Day School (Greater Philadelphia), The Silver Academy of Harrisburg, Abrams Hebrew Academy (Greater Philadelphia), Politz Hebrew Academy (Philadelphia), Philadelphia Yeshiva, Scranton Yeshiva, Scranton Hebrew Day School, Bnos Yisroel Girls High School of Scranton, and Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh.
Organized into small groups to meet with legislators from their districts, 56 meetings were held during the course of the day.
State Senator Rob Teplitz, who is a graduate of Silver Academy, noted how important the presence and advocacy of the group is to the budget process. “What you’re doing today will help make the fight [for EITC] successful and is critical to making sure the EITC program comes out of the budget process,” he said.
“While the EITC is vulnerable, it is a lifeline for many schools,” said State Senator Anthony Williams said, adding that the advocacy efforts of the group will be felt well beyond the Jewish community. Referring to the recent spate of shootings, Sen. Williams also spoke about the importance of the school safety legislation. “Educating our children without fear or intimidation of who they are is what America is supposed to be about,” he said.
Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq also addressed the group. “Pennsylvania has a rich history of choice in its educational opportunities, but we must provide funding for those opportunities,” she said, noting that, in addition to the EITC and OSTC programs and the security legislation, Pennsylvania also provides funding for textbooks and for psychological services. She encouraged the group to advocate for all of these programs with their legislators. “While this is a tough budget year, let’s hold onto what we have,” she said.
“This advocacy day is the beginning of your activism,” said Karen Barall, OU Advocacy’s Mid-Atlantic Director. “We must continue meeting with legislators and talking about the needs of the Jewish community—their constituents,” she said.
Maury Litwack, director of OU Advocacy’s state political affairs, reiterated the legislators’ comments about the significance of the group’s advocacy. “In every state where we advocate, the big takeaway we get from elected officials is that they need our voices. You have the opportunity now to make a difference and to encourage others to help make a difference for Jewish day schools,” he said.
To view photos from the event, click here.