Inside the OU

Grassroots Advocacy Leads to Millions for NY, NJ Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivahs

By: Roslyn Singer

When it comes to the legislative process, negotiations always lead to compromise. This year, in Albany and Trenton, those negotiations also led to a windfall of $250 million and a new line of funding for non-public schools, respectively.

For this reason, OU Advocacy keeps its “eyes on the prize,” namely, securing government funding for Jewish day schools and yeshivahs.

Direct advocacy in our state capitals is a key element to achieving this goal. But our grassroots outreach that mobilizes the Jewish day school/yeshivah community to make its voice heard to legislators is just as important.

“Our community had a strong presence in both Albany and in the local districts this year. We made it loud and clear to our legislators that non-public education–and funding for non-public education–is a fundamental issue to their constituents,” says Director of Field Operations for OU Advocacy-Teach NYS Arielle Frankston-Morris.

This year, OU Advocacy-Teach NYS brought delegations of students, parents and school leaders to Albany to advocate for legislation that supports our schools.

OU Advocacy-Teach NYS also arranged for state legislators to visit Jewish day schools and yeshivahs in their districts, where they discussed the importance of Jewish education and tuition affordability.

But the true “full-court press” of this year’s grassroots/community engagement centered on the education tax credit bill in Albany. OU Advocacy-Teach NYS actively campaigned for the bill, which would have provided $150 million in education tax credits and scholarships annually. Through the campaign, New Yorkers sent thousands of letters to state legislators in support of education tax credits.

Unfortunately, Albany turned down the education tax credit bill. In its place, however, Albany approved a deal to infuse an additional $250 million into the state’s non-public schools for mandated services–the largest amount ever allocated to this program.

“We’re disappointed that our lawmakers didn’t approve the education tax credit bill. But this historic level of funding is tremendously beneficial for Jewish day schools and yeshivahs. The mandated services program is a key funding source that helps our schools meet their bottom lines,” says New York Director of Policy for OU Advocacy-Teach NYS Jake Adler.

OU Advocacy-Teach NYS is continuing to engage students, parents and school leaders to keep the voice of the day school/yeshivah community strong.

The budget season also ended on a high note for New Jersey’s Jewish day schools and yeshivahs. For the first time in more than twenty years, a new funding line was created for New Jersey’s non-public schools.

The Secure Schools for All Children Act, sponsored and championed by Assemblyman Gary Schaer, was approved by Governor Chris Christie. The bill provides funding to non-public schools for security services and equipment, alleviating the financial pressure for those schools previously unable to afford various security measures.

Regional Director of OU Advocacy-NJ Josh Pruzansky attributes much of this success to TEACH NJS, a new coalition of twenty New Jersey Jewish day schools and yeshivahs, two Jewish Federations and the OU, formed to make the Jewish community more politically engaged in order to influence how the state funds non-public education.

The TEACH NJS network mobilized the Jewish community to urge state legislators to support the security bill as well as technology, textbook and nursing funding for non-public schools. Partner schools engaged their parent bodies to contact their legislators and TEACH NJS brought community members to Trenton to advocate for these important bills. Within a month, state legislators heard from thousands of New Jersey residents.

“The community rallied around the possibilities that TEACH NJS can create to help address education affordability. Our first advocacy effort led to a new funding stream that will have a real impact on Jewish day schools and yeshivahs,” says Pruzansky. “We are grateful to Assembly Budget Chairman Gary Schaer for his leadership on this critical issue.”

“Providing a safe environment for our children where they can thrive is our top priority. We are deeply grateful for this new security funding and thankful to our parents and the entire TEACH NJS network that helped make this critical legislation become reality,” says Chairman of the Board, Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, Rabbi Yehuda Rosenbaum.

Sam Moed, co-chair of TEACH NJS, notes that the efforts and influence of the community, the TEACH NJS coalition partners and other allied groups led to the state reinstating more than $5 million to New Jersey non-public schools–including the new security funding. “We are thrilled that so many schools and organizations see the importance of community advocacy. We have much work and opportunity ahead of us,” he says.

Roslyn Singer is the director of communications for OU Advocacy at the Orthodox Union.

This article was featured in the Fall 2015 issue of Jewish Action.