One of the surest signs of Teach NJ’s success is the growth of communal involvement in their advocacy efforts. Helping lead this effort in Teaneck and other North Jersey locales is Benjamin Hutt, their new regional field director.
Teach NJ is part of the national Teach Coalition, a nonpartisan organization advocating for equitable funding for nonpublic schools that was founded by the Orthodox Union in 2013. Teach NJ was established in 2015, when yeshivot and other nonpublic schools in New Jersey received about $28 million in funding from state government for technology, textbooks, and nursing. They received no funding for growing security needs.
In its first six years, Teach NJ helped shift the paradigm of state support for nonpublic schools so that day schools now receive significantly increased funding. Over the past year, nonpublic schools in New Jersey received $60 million in state funding (a 114% increase over 2015), which includes $26 million in security funds and a $5 million STEM program, the first of its kind in the state and the country. This STEM program will allow nonpublic schools in New Jersey to bring in credentialed STEM teachers who will be paid by the state.
Benjamin Hutt, a 2016 graduate of Rutgers University who previously worked at the OU’s Yachad program, was hired in February 2020 to serve as the campaign manager for Teach NJ’s drive to increase voter registration and voter turnout in the Jewish community. While the drive was broadcast to Jewish communities across New Jersey, particular emphasis was placed on Teaneck.
As part of that work, Hutt led efforts to register senior high school students in Teaneck area yeshivot—Frisch, Ma’ayanot and TABC. Despite the challenges of COVID-19 precautions, Teach NJ managed to register more than 150 teens who were 18 years old or would be by election day.
Teach NJ conducted a broad email and social media campaign to continuously underscore the importance of voting, as a means of demonstrating Jewish communal interest in state government and its activities. This campaign was regularly visible on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Teach NJ also reached out and contacted 5,000 Teaneck residents before the local election and 20,000 residents before the national election.
The results of Teach NJ’s Teaneck campaign were strong, with a 59% Jewish-voter turnout in the May municipal election versus 33% voter turnout in the town.
Teach NJ is now poised to build on this success by promoting Hutt to regional field director. Hutt, along with other members of Teach NJ’s grassroots team, will spearhead three community-engagement initiatives: It will build a Get Out the Vote (GOTV) Advisory Council to enlist local community activists in efforts to increase voter turnout, so elected officials will take Jewish communal concerns more seriously. It will expand its Advocacy Take Action program to mobilize more community members when policy matters of importance to yeshivot and other nonpublic schools are under consideration in New Jersey state government. And it is creating Ambassador Networks to encourage the formation of consistent and meaningful relationships between leaders in Jewish communities and New Jersey state legislators.
“I’m excited to be a part of Teach NJ because there is no better Jewish community initiative advocating for our schools and our community with a better track record than Teach NJ,” said Hutt. “What makes us unique and so potent is that we are grassroots driven, with the sole focus of strengthening our schools.”
“I am thrilled that Ben has joined Teach NJ,” said Katie Katz, executive director of Teach NJ. “Ben’s experience in voter engagement work, combined with his roots in the community, offer a unique skillset to our team. I am confident that Ben, along with the other Teach NJ team members, will fan the flames of community involvement so we can have a greater impact in fighting for safer, stronger, more affordable schools for our children.”
“Ben has proven himself to be a great asset to Teach Coalition team in these last two elections,” said Maury Litwack, founder and director of the Teach Coalition. “His work will inspire even more involvement from schools, parents and students across New Jersey. Teach NJ is even more well positioned to expand its reach for many years to come.”
By Harry Glazer