If you were a betting man or woman, you’d likely wager that the recently enacted New Jersey State budget—passed during a pandemic, under the cloud of a predicted shortfall in state tax revenues—would not contain any increases in assistance to nonpublic schools. You would lose that bet.
In a press release issued shortly before Sukkot, Teach NJ announced that the New Jersey state budget signed by Governor Phil Murphy on September 29 included “unprecedented support in both STEM and security funding for our schools.” A member of the Teach Coalition of the Orthodox Union, Teach NJ works with partners like Agudath Israel and the Catholic Conference of New Jersey to raise the concerns of nonpublic schools with state legislators and government leaders.
The new New Jersey state budget includes the following allocations to nonpublic schools, which include Jewish day schools and yeshivot:
An increase in security funding, from $150/student to $175/student ($3.25 million increase)
An increase in nursing funding, from $97/student to $102/student ($800,000 increase)
An increase in funding of 192 auxiliary services (such as compensatory education, English language learning and home instruction) of $2 million, the first notable increase in this area in over 10 years
Continued support of STEM education funding at $5 million
In an interview with The Jewish Link, Teach Coalition’s Director of State Political Affairs Dan Mitzner said, “We’re fortunate that we’ve been doing this for many years, have developed strong relationships with a few key legislators and have seen attitudes change [towards the needs of nonpublic schools]. In this time of crisis, helping out nonpublic schools has gone up as a priority.” He added that COVID-19 has underscored the importance of and the challenges facing schools; the legislators wanted to give schools the tools they need to reopen and do it well.
Renee Klyman, grassroots director of Teach NJ, pointed out the essential role of yeshiva and day school administrators in advocating for the needs of nonpublic schools in video conference calls with New Jersey state legislators. “It was very exciting to see them participate in these video calls, and respond with specific information to legislators’ questions. They’ve been excellent at building strong relationships,” she said.
A number of day school administrators, in turn, praised Teach NJ for securing these increases and celebrated their impact on their schools.
“The funding in the New Jersey state budget comes at a critical time,” said Josh Caplan, executive director of the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison. “Every dollar allocated helps us weather the unprecedented ‘perfect storm’ in which we find ourselves. RPRY and all nonpublic schools are very grateful for the increased funding for the health, safety and academic success of our children.”
“Since the inception of Teach NJ our day school community has come to understand the importance of aggressive lobbying for our needs,” said Rabbi Daniel Alter, head of school of The Moriah School in Englewood. “In a difficult budget year where by all accounts we would have assumed that funding would be decreased, Teach NJ worked really hard and, against all odds, was successful in attaining increased funding! With expected decrease in fundraising and tuition revenues, combined with increased costs because of COVID, these funds are more important than ever! We are so appreciative to Teach NJ for ensuring the strength of Jewish day schools in NJ.”
“Yeshivat Noam is happy that the state legislature has voted to increase funding for security, nursing and STEM education,” said Rabbi Chaim Hagler, head of school of Yeshivat Noam in Paramus. “We believe strongly that all New Jersey children should benefit from government funding, public and private school attendees. We are grateful to the dedicated professionals at Teach NJ for their hard work lobbying on behalf of the private school community.”
“The state funding we receive is critical to our operations even in a normal year, all the more so now,” said Rabbi Efrayim Clair, director of operations of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge. “This additional allocation is instrumental in helping offset some of our increased costs and spending associated with preparing our school to remain open in the safest way possible. As our costs associated with this pandemic continue to rise, we are grateful to Teach NJ for helping lobby the government on our behalf.”
In announcing the increased allocations to nonpublic schools, Teach NJ praised a number of state and legislative leaders for their support. In contacts with The Jewish Link, many of these elected leaders demonstrated their keen understanding of the importance of this funding.
“I sponsored the Senate budget resolution to increase our investment in nonpublic school nursing because, now more than ever, students need to be supported by the highest quality health professionals,” said Senator Joseph Lagana (D-Bergen), “In an uncertain world, we must do all we can to ensure every child has the opportunity to learn safely.”
“The increase in funding for nonpublic school students is evidence of Governor Murphy’s and the legislature’s commitment to all of the children of our great state,” said Senator Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. (D-Middlesex). “I am more than pleased that I was instrumental in making this happen. Our children are our greatest asset. We must do all that we can to protect them and give them the support they need to succeed.”
“We have witnessed a disturbing increase in the number of incidents of hate and bigotry based on race, religion and ethnicity,” said New Jersey State Senate President Steve Sweeney. “We can’t ignore these threats and we should not tolerate any acts of violence or intimidation, including those motivated by anti-Semitism. Protecting school children is a top priority, including students who attend public and nonpublic schools. We acted in the legislature to make sure that schools have the resources to take concrete steps to protect the safety and security of students and educators in nonpublic schools and to support other educational needs. I welcome the support of Teach NJ and other groups and individuals who worked to help get this done. We have to remain vigilant in protecting students and others from the threat of bias-motivated violence or intimidation.”
“The parents of children attending private, parochial and religious schools pay property taxes just like the parents of children attending public schools,” said Senator Paul A. Sarlo (D-Bergen County), chairman of the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee. “All children, regardless of which school they attend, deserve their fair share of public funding for educational necessities such as STEM academic programs, school nursing services and school security. I was proud to sponsor this increased funding in the state budget and I am grateful to my legislative colleagues and Governor Murphy for supporting it.”
“New Jersey is committed to investing in every student, no matter what school they attend,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic), policy chair/deputy speaker. “Increasing these vital programs will allow us to provide much-needed security and essential nursing services to students in nonpublic schools, in addition to technology, text books and transportation services. This budget speaks to the differences we can make for thousands of children across our state.”