Testimony of Orthodox Union
Opposing Cuts in Aid to Non-Public Schools
New Jersey Legislature, The Assembly
March 26, 2009
Chairman Greenwald & Members of the Committee:
My name is Howie Beigelman and I am the Deputy Director of Public Policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (aka the Orthodox Union), the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization. The Orthodox Union submits this testimony on behalf of our over fifty member synagogues across New Jersey – from Bergen County to Camden County – our rabbis and our thousands of individual members here in New Jersey, but also across the country and indeed, throughout the world. We, and our membership, are gravely concerned about reports that the committee is looking to cut the current state funding to non-public schools by at least $11 million – including, as you’ve heard cuts in some $7 million in technology aid, even that which was already promised, and millions in cuts to transportation reimbursement below the CPI or cost cutting by eliminating extended transportation zones.
Even in history’s darkest times, the Jewish people made quality education for all a foundation of their lives. Whether in the Warsaw Ghetto under the Nazi boot or newly liberated in displaced persons camps across Europe, and even behind the Iron Curtain, on the KGB’s watch, Jews risked their lives to teach their children. We value education over almost all else, and we ask that the state, even in these tough times, does no less. And we ask that the state do this not only for the 1.4 million children in our public schools but the tens of thousands of children in nonpublic schools as well.
Technology and transportation are two cornerstones of educating children. They must have appropriate hardware to learn at the 21st century level, and they must get to and from school safely. This is as much about their right to a good education as it is their ability to be productive, gainfully employed citizens when they graduate. Both are in the state’s interest – as a matter of morality and as a matter of economic self interest.
We know the Garden State’s fiscal situation is bleak. But these proposals are wrong.
First and foremost, they are unfair. We appreciate the state’s precarious financial situation, but at a time of economic uncertainty, with rising unemployment, to ask families and schools to do more with less puts more pressure on those who can least afford it at a time they can turn to less outside sources for help. Parents can ill afford tuition or fee hikes at this time; nor can they be faced with the prospect of a child being unable to have transportation to school.
To do this at a time when public school budgets are being increased by $300 million overall, and at worst, districts are seeing their state aid being held steady, is plain wrong. These parents sacrifice much, especially in these times, to send their children to the school of their choice. Often, as is the case with Orthodox Jews, this results from a religious imperative; the need to inculcate and educate their children in the way of their faith. This is not because these parents or our community are anti-public school. In fact, just the opposite is true. We hope and pray every public school is excellent, and well funded – and in this budget, they are. But Jewish day schools – as well as other nonpublic schools, parochial or secular, face an ever tougher time collecting tuition; and with one or both parents either out of work or underemployed, families are struggling to pay bills. A financial body blow now is not in the best interests of anyone – not parents, not students, and not schools – be they public or nonpublic.
Assemblyman Cryan has said that the Governor’s proposed budget is one in which the public schools not only dodged a bullet, but “a cannonball.” On behalf of all New Jerseyans, and on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish community across the state, we respectfully request that you restore all cuts, keeping bullets and cannonballs away from all New Jersey’s children, even those who attend a nonpublic school. We ask that you restore technology aid, restore the CPI reimbursement on bus transportation, and maintain extended mileage in those counties where already authorized.
Deputy Director of Public Policy