April 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Making Our Voice Heard: TEACH NJS Raises Budget for Non-Public School Education

Sending your child to a Jewish school just got a little easier. Private schools receive significantly less funding than public schools and the Trenton state leadership has now stepped up to say that this is no longer acceptable. Thanks to the new TEACH NJS coalition, real change is happening.

The Orthodox Union partnered with the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, Agudath Israel, Chabad, and even the New Jersey Catholic Conference. As a united group, they campaigned together, enabling the recent five million dollar increase for private schools. Josh Pruzansky, New Jersey Regional Director for OU Advocacy, told the Jewish Link that TEACH NJS is “hoping the Catholic Conference, who worked with us on advocacy, will come together with us as grassroots.”

However, TEACH NJS is not planning on lying low anytime soon. “This was a start,” said Pruzansky. Pruzansky indicated that the coalition is fighting for increased state dollars for private school security, technology and nursing care. “Obviously, it isn’t what it should be. Every child should be able to feel secure in their school—we will keep on pushing to get those numbers up. Especially after what happened in Charleston, it is important that every school, especially religious ones, should feel secure. The buck does not stop here.”

This groundbreaking funding, the first of its kind in 20 years, changes the lives of so many people. One mother, Rena Klein, spoke at a recent TEACH NJS launch. “Approximately a year and a half ago, my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes,” said Klein. “She goes to a wonderful yeshiva which we love in Piscataway, NJ, that unfortunately only received enough funds from the state to pay for a part time nurse. For parents with a child with a new diabetes diagnosis, this was terrifying. The school was great and tried every avenue to obtain more funds to have a nurse on staff for more hours during the week but, unfortunately, state funding for nursing services is set by a formula and there was no way to increase the funding outside of a change in the law.”

When Klein was asked to advocate for funding with state legislators, Klein said she “truly didn’t want to go. I know very little about politics, senators, assemblymen or the things that they do. I could never contribute to any political conversation at the Shabbos table and I embarrassingly couldn’t even tell you all the names of the presidential candidates! I had never done anything like this and I really believed that there was nothing I could ever say or do that would make any sort of difference.”

However, she was motivated to action when she saw the injustice in numbers. The State of New Jersey was providing the public schools approximately $200 per child for nursing services but only providing the non-public schools $77.20. “Students in private schools have the same right to be safe and healthy in their schools as students in public schools,” asserted Klein

She was stunned to find out that thanks to her advocacy trip, the technology services increased by $12 per student, an upsurge of 60% over last year’s state budget. This enables non-public schools to provide their students with state of the art instruction and access to the latest equipment. There was also an increase of $17 per student for nursing services, an increase of 22% over last year’s budget. For mothers like Klein, this makes all the difference in the world. “This meant going from a three-day a week nurse in my daughter’s school to a four-day a week nurse. It was a tremendous feeling to have played a small part in this win. I give all the credit to Josh Pruzansky and his team who have been working on this for years,” said Klein.

“The key takeaway from my experience is that we, as a community and a constituency, have the opportunity to effect positive change through the legislative process. I, along with many others, advocated for increased nursing aid for non-public schools. The legislators listened and the funding was increased. Before this experience, I never would have believed that I had the ability to effect this sort of change.”

“Governor Christie’s approval of the increased technology and nursing aid in the state budget really demonstrates how my voice, the voice of the Jewish day school community and the voice of the non-public school community overall can influence our legislators and make a significant impact on our daily lives.”

Kein explained that there are so many ways people can advocate for their needs. “But these can only happen if we get involved and make our voices heard.”

The Secure Schools for All Children Act came about largely thanks to Assemblyman Gary Schaer of Passaic, the only Orthodox Jew in the state legislature, who spearheaded the endeavor by introducing and working with his colleagues to make sure it was included in the state assembly. “Thanks to him,” explained Pruzansky, “the act passed 78-0.”

To learn more about how you can get involved with Teach NJS, visit this link: http://advocacy.ou.org/issues/teach-njs/.

By Bracha Leah Palatnik

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