Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations Welcomes Introduction of Senate and House Bills

Posted on October 20, 2005 In Press Releases

Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – welcomed the introduction of legislation in Congress to provide federal aid to K-12 schools and students impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

After weeks of intensive negotiations among themselves and with the Orthodox Union and other non-public school representatives, Senators Enzi (R-WY), Kennedy (D-MA), Alexander (R-TN) and Dodd (D-CT) today introduced the Hurricane Katrina Elementary & Secondary Education Recovery Act.

Most relevant to the Orthodox Jewish and similar religious communities, the bipartisan bill includes a program of federal aid for non-public (including parochial) schools which have taken in students displaced by Katrina. All K-12 schools, under the bill, can receive up to $6000 per displaced student. Under this bill, federal funds would be disbursed by the states to nonpublic schools via accounts set up for each displaced student the school has taken in. The Senate proposal also contains a number of provisions designed to ensure federal funds do not directly support religious activities. In the House, legislation to create the Family Education Reimbursement Account Program was introduced by Reps. John Boehner (R-OH) and Bobby Jindal (R-LA). This proposal would allocate $6700 per displaced child and the funds would be requested and disbursed to schools these children are attending by an internet-based account system. House sponsors intend their proposal to be as simple and efficient as possible.

The Orthodox Union’s director of public policy, Nathan Diament, issued the following statement in reaction to these bill introductions:

“The Orthodox Jewish community is very pleased that we are no longer discussing whether non-public and parochial schools will be included in a federal education aid program, but how they will be included – by what means and on what terms. We appreciate how hard Senators Enzi, Alexander, Kennedy and Dodd worked to forge a compromise bill which seeks to be fair and equitable. While we still have reservations about several of the Senate bill’s provisions, we appreciate how much progress we’ve made.

We greatly appreciate the leadership shown by House Education Cmte. Chair Boehner and Rep. Jindal to put a proposal on the table which is most efficient and, under current precedents, constitutional irrespective of the ideological attacks lodged against it by some. As the representative of the stakeholders on the ground – the schools who have opened their doors to these displaced children – we remain focused upon securing final passage of legislation, not scoring political points at the price of pragmatic assistance.”