Orthodox Union facilitates key community leadership meeting in District 20
Maryland State Delegate Sheila Hixson (D-Montgomery County), chair of the powerful Ways & Means Committee and Senator Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), an authority on constitutional and civil liberties issues met today with rabbinic and lay leaders from the Silver Spring Orthodox Jewish community at Southeast Hebrew Congregation. Facilitated by the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, Jewish leaders in attendance included Rabbi Kalman Winter of Southeast Hebrew, representatives of several Jewish day schools as well as Rabbi Jonah Lerner, incoming regional director for NCSY (a national Jewish youth group).
This was the first time that both elected officials had met with local Orthodox Jewish leaders in their home district. Both Delegate Hixson and Senator Raskin engaged the assembled leaders with an open and honest discussion on issues important to the Maryland orthodox Jewish community, including the BOAST education tax credit, private school busing, textbooks and energy funding for faith-based organizations.
The BOAST legislation passed the Senate this year 30-17 with the support of Governor O’Malley, but died in the House on the last day of session in Ways & Means, the committee chaired by Delegate Hixson. It is based on legislation enacted in six other states that provide businesses with a tax credit for donations to either public or nonpublic schools and which have, in the last decade raised tens of millions of dollars for education.
Delegate Hixson used this opportunity to clarify her concerns about BOAST, which included the fiscal impact in the current budgetary environment as well as issues relating to concerns about discrimination as well as the percent of the tax credit, which was 75% of the donation by a business.
Community leaders responded by conveying their staunch support for both public and private education and noting the high percentage of families at each of the area schools that receive financial aid, and how that has increased dramatically in the recent economic downturn.
Delegate Hixson indicated that she was open to legislation that addressed her concerns and Senator Raskin articulated his hope that any future BOAST bill would be drafted to both please the private school community and addresses the issues raised by the opposition. Both he and Delegate Hixson suggested further conversations with synagogue and school leadership in order to better understand the needs of the communities they both represent.
Delegate Hixson and Senator Raskin also conveyed their potential support for private school busing and the need for non-profit and faith based organizations to be included in available energy funding.
Howie Beigelman, Deputy Director of Public Policy for the Orthodox Union, stated:
“We appreciate Chairwoman Hixson and Senator Raskin’s first ever visit with the White Oak Orthodox community – and we appreciate their candor and willingness to assist on the critical issues facing us. We look forward to continued dialogue and partnership.”
Zev Teichman, Executive Director of the Torah School of Greater Washington added:
“As both a private school executive and a long-time constituent, this was an excellent initial meeting with our elected State representatives. I am looking forward to similar meetings in the future where we can once again openly discuss, exchange ideas, and make progress on the issues we discussed today.”
Jennifer Zukerman, Director of Development for the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy commented:
“As our scholarship budget is ever more strained and we look to assist our parents as well as ensuring each student, including those with special needs, has the education they deserve, we are appreciative of the time and efforts the Delegate and Senator have made and their ongoing commitment.”
Rabbi Binyamin Sanders, Director of Development for the Yeshiva of Greater Washington stated:
“This was a candid conversation regarding tax credits and transportation aid for our parents and students. We are grateful that Chairwoman Hixson & Senator Raskin gave us their time and commitments to work with us.”