OU Op Ed – Assisting Private Schools Can Right a Wrong

Posted on February 14, 2007 In News

Assisting private schools can right a wrong
by Behnam Dayanim
and Howie Beigelman

Maryland State legislators at a legislative forum recently hosted by the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville heard parents, teachers and students ask them to pledge support on three critical areas.

At 15 other forums across the state, from the Delaware border to southern Maryland, legislators were being urged to do the same things: restore cut textbook funding, expand the teacher training tax credit and implement a corporate education tax credit to infuse millions in new money into our schools.

The facts, according to parents and school leaders, are simple. Nearly 200,000 students in 700 nonpublic schools across Maryland are saving the state taxpayer billions. But that’s partially because students at these schools are treated differently ‹ some would say unfairly ‹ from students in the public schools. But these parents and school officials aren’t trying to take a dime from public schoolchildren. In fact, they are pressing policies that benefit the public schools as much as anyone.

For cash-strapped schools – both public and nonpublic – the ways to increase revenue are few and far between. For public schools, revenue increases can come via increased taxes and perhaps increased fees for certain extracurricular activities. Private schools can increase tuition. And both can seek outside donations. But donations are hard to come by – with businesses and individuals facing many competing, and worthy, would-be beneficiaries of philanthropy.

But an education tax credit, modeled after Pennsylvania’s highly successful program, could inject as much as $25 million to public and nonpublic schools, at no coast to the taxpayer.

A similar program in Arizona saw the Tempe area’s three public school districts raising nearly $2.56 million in 2005 alone. Jewish day schools in Pittsburgh, in a program run through the local federation, have raised about $5 million for Jewish education.

Legislators were asked to support BOAST Maryland (Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers in Maryland), the tax credit proposal that could do the same for local schools in this state.

They were also asked to play fair and endorse expanding the teacher training tax credit. Teachers in public schools get a credit for any course work they take to become or continue their accreditation. But teachers in nonpublic schools get no such credit. At $1,500 per year, it’s a pittance to the state but makes all the difference in the world to students studying under a better-trained teacher.

And finally, the legislators were asked to fund fully ‹ actually, to restore the cut funding ‹ the textbook and technology subsidy. Nonpublic schools currently split about $4 million a year between textbooks and technology ‹ something along the lines of $30 per student. That’s down from $60 a few years ago.

Fully funding the program at its budgeted $6 million would help nonpublic schools keep up with the technology they need and the books their students must use.

For our families in Greater Washington, as well as for non-Jewish families in the rural stretches and the inner cities, these three proposals would boost our education investment exponentially while costing the state almost nothing.

In fact, as each child not in a public school saves taxpayers some $10,000 annually, programs such as these that will help keep nonpublic education affordable for Maryland schoolchildren make fiscal sense far above any marginal cost.

Let’s hope the legislators can do the math.

An attorney, Behnam Dayanim chairs the education committee at Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville and is a national associate vice president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Howie Beigelman is the O.U.’s deputy director of public policy.

This article appeared in the December 24, 2006 issue of the Washington Jewish Week