July 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

On Religious Charter Schools And Yeshiva Funding

The issue of government funding for Jewish day schools in the U.S. always boils down to perceived conflicts with the Religious Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, if there was government funding for religious instruction I have no doubt that such funding would justifiably be struck down as being unconstitutional. Furthermore, such funding would likely come with some “strings attached,” which might interfere with our “free exercise of religion.” But there is another way!

In the Province of Quebec, Jewish day schools receive funding for the secular portion of their curriculum, provided the secular curriculum meets or exceeds the minimum standards of the Ministry of Education. In practice, this means that schools receive roughly 60% of the funding that the public schools receive, based on the notion that the secular studies comprise approximately 60% of the hours of the overall day school curriculum, the remaining 40% of the time being set aside for religious studies. Naturally, each school must do an annual careful accounting, subject to audit, of its secular/religious allocation of time. In my experience, there was never any interference with the religious studies portion of the curriculum. Not being a lawyer, I am not in a position to venture an expert opinion if such a funding mechanism would meet the constitutional test of separation of church and state, but it may be worth a try.

Gerry Kesselman

West Orange

[Kesselman served as the executive director of the Solomon Schechter Day School in Montreal for 18 years.]

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