A Radical Proposal Whose Time Has Come A mutually beneficial plan could help both the public schools and the yeshivot, without violating the Constitution

By Kenny Gluck and Jonathan Isler

I was never one to be satisfied with the status quo or to accept the phrase “that’s how it’s always been done.” I believe change should be embraced and not feared as long as it has the ability to improve the current situation.

That’s why some months ago, I, along with a few community members in Woodmere, New York, where I live, came up with a radical plan to tackle the astronomical cost of yeshivah tuition.

Our initial plan was to have yeshivah kids receive their secular education in the public school and their religious instruction in classrooms that would be rented, after hours, from the public school. Much of the feedback we received regarding our original plan reflected concerns about disrupting the yeshivah environment; so in crafting our current plan we tried to ensure that the yeshivah environment will not be compromised in any way.

HAFTR would take the bold step of eliminating its entire secular studies program and pass the savings along to tuition-paying parents. In essence, the yeshivah’s secular studies department would be financed by the public school district.

Our local district, the Lawrence School District, is unique. Largely because of the significant Orthodox population in the area, the district suffers from dwindling enrollment, budget failures and poor student test scoring. The district is, in essence, a corporation desperately in need of a corporate restructuring plan.

Most yeshivot only close budget gaps by raising the cost of its product (tuition). Parents are being financially strangled and can no longer afford to pay tuition. It is interesting to note that each side in this issue has what the other one needs. The local frum community has the students as well as the ability to deliver budget victories and increase test scores. The public schools have the financial resources that yeshivot desperately need. Is this a shidduch? Maybe yes!

As of this printing, the newest proposal is to have the yeshivah students remain in yeshivah all day, as they currently do. Students will daven and have limudei kodesh in the morning. The yeshivah would take the bold step of eliminating its entire secular studies program and pass the savings along to tuition-paying parents. Public school teachers would teach yeshivah students in the yeshivah building. In essence, the yeshivah’s secular studies department would be financed by the public school district.

This proposal can only work because the school district has an obligation to provide a free secular education to every child in the district and that education need not take place in the public school. We envision students being dually enrolled in yeshivah and public school, that is, they would be regarded as yeshivah students and public school students simultaneously. This plan would obviously benefit the school district as well since the increased enrollment would lead to increased dollars from the state.

In recent years the Supreme Court has begun taking a less rigid interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. With the likely ascension of Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. to the bench, this may continue. In essence, providing a secular education for a religious institution does not directly support the establishment of a religion, and the Court may see it that way in the near future.

Students would be regarded as yeshivah students and public school students simultaneously.

Most major businesses at some point consider outsourcing in order to save money; yeshivot should be no different. Traditionally, yeshivot employed retired or active public school teachers to teach secular studies, so there will be little change in that regard. What is important, however, is that the yeshivah retain control over the curriculum so as to ensure Orthodox sensibilities are taken into account. Is all this effort worth a 30 to 40 percent tuition reduction? In my opinion the answer is yes. The local school district is in the process of exploring the legality of the issue and trying to determine the best way to move forward with this initiative. Will our plan succeed if it passes legal muster? Will both sides be able to employ visionary thinking and take bold steps? For the sake of our children, I sure hope so.

Mr. Gluck is a former Wall Street trader who currently operates a dry cleaning pickup/delivery service in the Five Towns and the Rockaways in New York. He lives in Woodmere, New York, with his wife and three children.

Mr. Isler is a vice president of investments of the Private Client Group of Ryan Beck & Co. He lives in Woodmere, New York, with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions can be sent to torahafterps@yahoo.com.

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This article was featured in the Fall 2005 issue of Jewish Action.
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