School boards, advocacy groups, school administrators and parent organizations are faced with many challenges. Their hard work should never be taken for granted. A major issue for them is how to prioritize school needs and the concomitant responses to those needs. We are not discussing educational challenges here (of which there are many), but the issues associated with the broader operation of educational institutions.
Chief among these concerns is funding—of all sorts. Tuition revenue is spiraling upward beyond the reach of many. How much should a school budget for scholarships? Is it a line item in the expense budget or, as some schools do, is there specific fundraising for scholarships, and whatever is raised that’s it? How much to invest in security? Guards? Cameras? Hard-wired lockdown systems? Bollards? Security gates? Is there a social worker, nurse and psychologist on staff? How up to date are the school’s computers? Is there or should there be a hot lunch program?
The state of New Jersey funds many non-religion-related expenditures to non-public schools to the tune of over $200M for Bergen County alone this past year. Our schools receive funding for many of the expenses listed above as well as for transportation, STEM and textbooks. The goal of Teach NJS is to increase this funding. Teach NJS is part of the national Teach Advocacy Network founded by the Orthodox Union, lay leaders and a broad network of Jewish day schools and yeshivas. They are dedicated to securing government funding to ensure that Jewish schools are safe and fairly funded. Teach Advocacy operates now in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania, Maryland and California, covering 186,000 children. Four hundred and fifty day schools and yeshivas receive government funding through Teach Advocacy efforts.
On Sunday, April 15, Teach NJS held its Annual Legislative Breakfast attended by many hundreds of parents, board members, activists, community leaders, rabbis, educators, students, many local and state legislators as well as representatives from the Muslim and Catholic school systems. The keynote speaker was Dr. Lamont Repollet, acting commissioner, New Jersey Department of Education. He spoke of his commitment to the non-public schools and of his desire to visit our schools in person to help in getting needed funds, especially in the area of security.
One of the lessons I have learned in a long career of writing and obtaining grants is that often you are forced to apply for funding for what a funder wants, not necessarily for what you really need. But money is money, so we apply and use the grant as the funder instructs us. That is the situation with current models of state funding—which, by the way, we do need and put to good use. However, the issue of tuition won’t go away. Teach NJS is currently focused on other worthwhile efforts to access additional funding for our schools.
I sat with a board member of one of our schools and explained that what is needed is a major lobbying effort by parents from all day schools in the state to besiege their legislators to introduce legislation to allow tuition tax credits. As explained in previous articles, it costs nothing to New Jersey taxpayers, it’s like a charitable donation, many other states already do it and the benefits provide millions of dollars in scholarship aid. It’s a grassroots effort that can resolve the tuition crisis in large measure.
Any bill introduced into the legislature by lawmakers usually starts out as a request from a constituent or a group of constituents. It then goes to the appropriate committee, hearings are held and they vote to bring it to the floor. If it passes then the governor has to sign it into law. The teachers’ unions and People For The American Way will object, but there is no legal barrier to tuition tax credits according to the Supreme Court.
We have the political clout to make this happen, especially if we partner with the Catholic school system. The time for action is now. We must advocate for our children and for those parents who don’t earn $300-500K annually.
By Wallace Greene
Dr. Wallace Greene has had a long, distinguished career in Jewish education as a teacher, principal, consultant and activist.