Reprinted with permission from the Jewish Link of NJ
The exorbitant cost of Jewish day school has been a prevailing issue within our community for a long time. Countless hours have been spent lobbying for an increase in state funding to alleviate a portion of the ever-increasing expenses encumbering local families. Last week, TeachNJS, a project of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center along with The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey reached a tremendous milestone toward this initiative as Governor Chris Christie signed into law the Secure Schools for All Children Act.
The Secure Schools for All Children Act entitles every non-public school student in grades K-12 up to $75 in security aid. Previously, the funding stream was allotted exclusively to nursing, technology and textbook aid. With the passing of this law, security issues will no longer be a cause for concern among families of non-public school students across New Jersey. “As parents, we all want to know that our children are safe as they head off to school each morning and that every effort has been made to create a secure learning environment. The funding allocated by this legislation will go a long way toward ensuring that our schools provide this safe environment our children need to learn and thrive,” commented Nathan J. Lindenbaum, Co-Chair of TeachNJS.
This endeavor was a collaboration of various groups; however, it was Assemblyman Gary Shaer who directed the initiative within the assembly itself. Senator Bob Gordon of Bergenfield was a lead sponsor of the bill as well. “This was truly a group effort from both houses of the legislature as well as from the Governor and we would like to thank all of our state’s elected officials for helping provide the kind of safe learning environment our students need to succeed,” said Maury Litwack, Director of State Political Affairs of The Orthodox Union Advocacy Center.
New Jersey residents are subjected to increasingly high taxes, of which a considerable amount goes to aid public school students. Many argue that it is only fair that a portion of funds be allocated to secure a safe and comfortable learning atmosphere to non-public school student as well. Establishing a new law that will require the state to provide funding on an annual basis, protecting the lives of more than 150,000 non-public school students is a step in the right direction and an impressive response by the Governor and Legislative Leadership to our message that all students should be treated equally in the provision of health care and safety,” articulated Josh Pruzansky, New Jersey Regional Director of The Orthodox Union Advocacy Center.
The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey was a significant supporter of this project, with a noteworthy amount of funds provided through its Endowment Foundation. “Our resources made a material difference towards this initiative and I feel it is important to recognize that those who made it possible deserve recognition for our ability to contribute back to the community,” expressed Jason Shames, CEO and Executive Vice President of JFNNJ. The Federation wants to assume a leadership role in the community and what better opportunity than supporting local families who really need the help. “With over 6,000 students in the Northern New Jersey Jewish day school system, the Federation believes this is an investment in the community that will yield remarkable returns,” commented Shames. “Leveraging these funds offers the potential to make a quantum leap forward for our Jewish day schools.”
Dr. Zvi Marans, Immediate Past President of JFNNJ and Current Endowment Chair, highlighted the efforts The Jewish Federation has made towards this initiative. “We have always been a strong proponent of Jewish day schools and when we were presented with the opportunity to participate in the Orthodox Union’s initiative, we were excited to be a part of it.” Marans emphasized the value of a collaborative effort in order to achieve success. “We want to use synergies to accomplish what cannot be done alone,” Marans explained. “The success of this project is directly attributable to this alliance; by working together we were able to make this happen. Additionally, the effort of our lay leaders, Nathan Lindenbaum and Sam Moed, must be recognized. These two gentlemen have been strong proponents of this project from the outset, and they have been thought and action leaders in addressing issues of affordability of day school education in our community.”
More than 20 day schools collaborated with TeachNJS and JFNNJ. This mission is very close to the hearts and budgets of local community members. The tuition burden has taken a toll on many families in the Yeshiva day school system and the fact that we now have a law assuring greater funds for necessary services is a tremendous triumph. “We are incredibly proud of what TeachNJS was able to accomplish in just over one year. The New Jersey day school community came out in great numbers to say that our children deserve parity in security funding, and we were able to get the attention of legislators and the Governor. As the President of a Yeshiva day school, I can say with sincerity that this is just the beginning of our work towards lifting some of the heavy financial burden from parents and schools. We look forward to further success this year and in future years as our numbers increase and community participation strengthens even further,” declared Cheryl Rosenberg, Board of Trustees of Ben Porat Yosef and Executive Committee Member of TeachNJS. Looking ahead, Rosenberg believes our community has a real presence, which will influence our political power. “They know we will support them if they support us.”
Jonathan Gellis, who has served on the boards of many local Jewish day schools, feels that while this accomplishment is a victory, there is plenty more that needs to be done. “People should not view this as the end of the mission, it’s really only the beginning,” Gellis told The Jewish Link. He believes a relevant message to community members is the importance of staying engaged. We need to commit both time and spending to these causes in order to produce the results we are seeking.
New Jersey lags far behind neighboring New York and Pennsylvania in state funding for the non-public school sector. While acknowledging the need to separate church and state, many schools note that the state has an obligation to all children regardless of the school system in which they are enrolled. Line items such as textbooks, nursing, technology and security are some areas where funding could be equal for all students. TeachNJS, JFNNJ and Jewish day school members have done a tremendous amount with this victory. However, the organization urges that, as a community, we can better advocate on our own behalf. This can be accomplished with greater turnouts at the polls and constant communication with elected officials.
By Andrea Nissel