Teach NJS Parents Testified in Trenton Today for More School Aid

Posted on March 15, 2017 In Teach NJS

Trenton, NJ – Today, four Teach NJS parents testified in Trenton before the Assembly Budget Committee on behalf of nonpublic schools.

The four parents highlighted the inequity in state funding for nonpublic schools. While neighboring New York and Pennsylvania invest heavily in nonpublic schools, New Jersey lags far behind. The parents argued for an increase in the 2018 budget, or approximately $500 per nonpublic school student to pay for essential resources and services, like textbooks, technology, security, and nursing aid.

The four parents are:

  • Erik Kessler: A resident of Bergenfield, NJ, Mr. Kessler is the director of operations at the Moriah School, where he sends his children.
  • Joe Feldman: A resident of Englewood, NJ, Mr. Feldman sends his children to the Moriah School.
  • Rachel Ovitz: A resident of Cherry Hill, NJ, Mrs. Ovitz is a parent and marketing director at Politz Day School.
  • Ralph Hanan: A resident of Long Branch, NJ, Mr. Hanon sends his children to Hillel Yeshiva School in Deal, NJ.

The parents’ testimony is below:

Ralph Hanan: Chairman Schaer, members of the Assembly Budget Committee, good afternoon, my name is Ralph Hanon and I am a member of Teach NJS, a coalition which works with the state Legislature on behalf of Jewish day schools and yeshivas throughout New Jersey to advocate for greater nonpublic school funding. We are here today to discuss the significant disproportion in funding between public and nonpublic schools in the state and to respectfully urge funding parity in the Fiscal Year ’18 budget. I am joined here today with other members of Teach NJS who will introduce themselves and speak briefly about this important issue. Thank you for giving us all the opportunity to testify this afternoon, we promise to be as concise as possible.

Ralph Hanan: Today there are 170 Jewish day schools throughout New Jersey serving over 41,000 students, making Jewish day schools the second largest provider of nonpublic school education in the state. The annual cost of educating these children is $350 million dollars. As a parent of a child who attends a Jewish day school in Long Branch, the cost of education puts significant financial stress on our families and communities. 10% of K-12 students in New Jersey attend a nonpublic school, yet annually the state spends less than 1% of education funding on nonpublic schools. In the Fiscal Year ’18 budget we are requesting nonpublic school funding at a level of $500 per student, which would breakdown as: $150 for nursing aid, $146 for technology aid, $144 for security aid, $60 for textbook aid, all per student numbers. By comparison, neighboring New York and Pennsylvania invest substantially more in nonpublic schools, double or triple that of New Jersey. If our students received equitable state funding with public school students in New Jersey, they would receive twenty-two times the current nonpublic school level of $224 per student in funding. An increase to $500 per student from current funding levels of $224 per nonpublic school student in New Jersey would begin to address parity in funding core educational programs and services.

Ralph Hanan: I will now turn it over to Erik Kessler who will discuss a timely and critical issue related to security funding that our community is facing.

Erik Kessler: Thank you, Ralph. Good afternoon, my name is Erik Kessler and I am the executive director of The Moriah School in Englewood. As you all have likely read and seen on the news, the Jewish community has been the victims of a recent wave of violent threats made against our community centers. Since January, more than 80 Jewish Community Centers across the country received more than 100 bomb threats, forcing them to put evacuation procedures into effect. In New Jersey threats have been made all across the state from Edison, to Scotch Plains, to Cherry Hill. So far, thankfully, these threats have all been false, but that doesn’t mitigate the danger or the fear. Each time thousands of teachers, parents, and children wondered, if this time, the threat was real. This spate of bomb threats highlights the unique security ricks religious institutions, and specifically, nonpublic schools face every day.

Erik Kessler: Chairman Schaer thanks to your primary support and leadership on this issue, this past fall Governor Christie signed the Secure Schools for All Children Act, providing nonpublic schools with up to $75 per student in aid to be used for security. This was a great first step and we thank you again Chairman Schaer, and others, for championing this issue, but this increase only covers about 22 percent of the average Jewish day school’s security costs. That’s enough to hire one part-time security guard – clearly not enough to meet the security needs of the 150,000 students who attend Jewish, Catholic, private, and other nonpublic schools.

Erik Kessler: At my school in Englewood, located less than 3 miles from the George Washington Bridge, nearly 1,000 people a day pass through our gates. Our proximity to New York City, as well as the size of our 14-acre campus, makes us a target. In order to be proactive, Moriah has installed a perimeter fence, as well as security cameras both outside and inside the facility. Two guards (armed and unarmed) patrol the facility when students are present. In addition, our security contractor runs lockdown drills multiple times per year to prepare us for any threats, all despite a considerable lack of security funding. Unfortunately, not all Jewish day schools and other nonpublic schools have been as blessed as we have with private donations.

Joe Feldman: Chairman Schaer, members of the committee, my name is Joe Feldman, I live in Englewood and have a child who attends The Moriah School. In the wake of these threats, addressing the security funding disparity in New Jersey nonpublic schools is all the more pressing. As a parent, for me, it comes down to two basic principles: one, my child and every child deserves to go to school in a safe environment, and two, nonpublic school students deserve more equitable security funding as public school students. As Ralph said, we are requesting that the Legislature and Governor increase nonpublic school security funding to $144 per student. This would be a game changer for nonpublic schools, allowing them to properly invest in the equipment and security personnel necessary to keep all students safe. I will now turn it over to Rachel Ovitz, who has a personal nursing story to share with the committee.

Rachel Ovitz: Thank you. My name is Rachel Ovitz, I am a parent of two children who attend Politz Day School of Cherry Hill and I am also director of marketing and admissions at the school. Unfortunately, Politz’s story is not unlike other nonpublic schools across the state that do not have the sufficient number of nurses to care for my child and thousands of others. Two of my four children were born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare and potentially fatal disorder of the endocrine system. My daughters eventually developed type one diabetes, which requires insulin pumps and again, round-the-clock medical monitoring. When it came time for them to attend a day school, our natural choice was Politz, where our oldest daughter attends. Because the school does not have a full-time nurse on staff, I left my job in Philadelphia and took a significant salary cut in order to take a job at Politz so my children could go to school there and I could be there to care for them as a nurse would.

Rachel Ovitz: Again, to wrap up, we are asking for $500 per student for nonpublic schools in the FY ’18 budget. This would allow schools to hire more nurses to care for my daughters and thousands of other students, implement more security measures to keep those students safe, and increase funds for technology and textbooks so nonpublic school students are provided with the same resources as public schools. Please address the significant disproportion in funding between public and nonpublic school students in the state. Thank you again for giving us the opportunity to testify, we would be happy to answer any questions you may have.