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Sunday, September 19, 2021
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Teach NJ’s Virtual Mission to Trenton, on Tuesday, May 11, clearly demonstrated that in the six years since it was established, Teach NJ has become a well-respected leader in both the Jewish community and New Jersey’s state capital. The mission attracted around 600 participants and representation from 16 yeshivot and Jewish schools across the state, who participated in 25-30 small group meetings with legislators. The mission also drew some impressive speakers, with remarks presented by the OU’s Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer, Teach NJ Executive Director Katie Katz, New Jersey State Deputy Assembly Speaker Assemblyman Gary Schaer, New Jersey State Senator Vin Gopal and New Jersey State Senator Joseph Lagana. The star attraction was a presentation by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who stated that the mission was “not just a civics lesson, but a lesson in how to make your views heard,” and thanked Teach NJ “for all you do to help educate our kids.”

Teach NJ’s high level of preparation was evident in the professional-quality Mission Guide Teach NJ distributed to participants a few days in advance of the two-hour Zoom gathering. The guide offered succinct statements about Teach NJ’s goals and its aims in the mission; short visual overviews of how a bill becomes law, the composition of the New Jersey legislature and the disparity in funding for nonpublic schools; and three pages of talking points about Teach NJ, the imperative to support non-public schools and the three “Asks” to present in the small group sessions with the legislators or their staff:

Requesting continued funding for the STEM program that brings qualified teachers to instruct STEM classes in nonpublic schools

Seeking increased funding for technology needs in nonpublic schools in recognition of the growing role of technology in education, especially in light of COVID-19

Asking for increased funding for school nurses, as a means of both assisting schools in complying with state-imposed health mandates and CDC recommendations, and ensuring the safety and health of students and faculty

The small group sessions reflected the esteem with which Teach NJ is held in Trenton. In a seven-person meeting with Assemblyman Gordon Johnson—speaker pro tempore of the New Jersey General Assembly—the assemblyman praised Teach NJ, noting that it advocates not just for Jewish schools but for Catholic Schools and Islamic Schools as well. After affirmatively responding to the three requests of the group, he stated, “You are our subject matter experts” and said he will “always be there for you.”

While the New Jersey legislature’s 2022 budget preparations are still underway, and will not be completed for a few weeks, it’s already clear that yeshivot and day schools that took part in the mission to Trenton felt that the effort was quite successful.

“Thank you for accomplishing the impossible!” wrote Barbara Rubin, principal of the Yavneh Academy in Paramus, in an email to Teach NJ leaders shortly after the event ended. “You managed to combine an array of Yeshiva Day Schools with influential state politicians, including Governor Murphy, and ensured that the voices of our children were heard… I can only imagine the countless hours that went into the development of this program. Your eye to detail, your communication with the schools, and your passion made all the difference.”

A post on the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva of Edison’s Instagram page the next day stated: “Yesterday the seventh grade girls joined the Mission to Trenton with Teach NJ, advocating to increase government funding for NJ nonpublic schools. The students met with Representative Sterley Stanley, where they engaged in a sophisticated and meaningful conversation with him about funding for STEM, technology, and nursing. The girls were enthusiastic, articulate, and the representative was very impressed!”

Teach NJ mission leaders also felt strongly that the Mission to Trenton made a very favorable impression.

“With the rising costs of education and increased need for security at our schools, the traditional model of relying on parents and community benefactors as the sole source of funds for nonpublic schools is no longer sustainable,” said Jonathan Schechter of Englewood. “Only by educating our elected officials as to our needs and concerns will we be able to ensure that nonpublic schools receive their fair share of taxpayer funds that for too long have failed to make its way to the children of those nonpublic school parents who also pay such taxes.”

“Beyond the recent successes of Teach NJ, it’s become abundantly clear how much more we can achieve by being organized and making our voice heard,” said Ben Blumenthal of Englewood. “The mission to Trenton was a great opportunity for us to ‘show up’ and advocate for our community’s needs and strengthen our relationships with our elected officials.”

“Government funding is one of the key sources of funds to help defray the increasing costs to educate our children,” said David Saks of Bergenfield. “The Teach NJ mission is one of the best ways to demonstrate our support for our elected officials and the importance of obtaining funding for our children’s education. By attending the mission, participants helped to establish the relationships with our elected officials that enable Teach NJ to create additional legislation and government funding to educate and support our schools.”

By Harry Glazer

 

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