April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Students Travel to Trenton With Teach NJ

Last week students from across New Jersey traveled to Trenton to meet with state officials for Teach NJ’s first large-scale, in-person event. Teach NJ espouses safe, quality and affordable Jewish education for all. Participants thanked officials for increased security funding for nonpublic schools and asked for increases in transportation funding, continuation of the nonpublic school STEM program and inclusion of nonpublic schools in any universal pre-K program.

Teach NJ, under the umbrella of the Orthodox Union, has successfully advocated for more than $146 million in aid for nonpublic schools since 2015, together with its coalition partners.

Teach NJ was joined by representatives from 18 New Jersey schools, including: Ben Porat Yosef, Golda Och Academy, Heichal HaTorah, Hillel Yeshiva Middle School and High School, Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, The Moriah School, Noor Ul Iman School, Our Lady Star of the Sea School, Politz Day School, Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva, Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, Tenafly Chabad Academy, The Hebrew Academy, The Idea School, Torah Academy of Bergen County, Yavneh Academy and Yeshivat He’Atid.

Katie Katz, executive director of Teach NJ, explained the importance of having a finger on the pulse of the community’s needs: “We develop our policy ‘asks’ every year based on the needs of the schools and communities, as well as the political climate. We, along with our coalition partners, asked for an increase in transportation funding last year, and the state did increase that funding. Several schools were able to provide additional transportation to students as a result, but we are still in the midst of a transportation crisis, and more is needed to be able to address the current busing issues.

“Universal pre-K is a new policy ask this year,” Katz continued. “The state is growing its universal pre-K program and it is really important to our families that nonpublic schools be included in the universal pre-K offerings.”

The proximity of the mission to Election Day is no accident. Teach NJ cultivates civic-mindedness among students by showing them how to speak up for the needs of their communities. Election Day is their parents’ turn to walk the walk and do their part by heading to the polls. And candidates and elected officials are paying attention, emphasized Katz. “When we demonstrate high voter turnout in our community, we show legislators that we are paying attention, and they in turn will pay attention to our priorities. When we don’t show up at the polls, we are telling them that it is OK for them to not show up for us.”

Students made a real impression on the legislators, even earning offers of internships. “Legislators love to hear from students,” Katz said. “The students shared stories and examples with them about how these policy asks impact their lives. One student even brought a written proposal for added mental health resources.” These in-person visits make the issues more concrete and impactful.

The fact that Teach NJ has representation from the Jewish, Muslim and Catholic communities also sends a powerful message. “We are not only advocating for ourselves, but for all students across New Jersey to have much-needed opportunities and resources,” Katz continued.

Working closely with a number of elected officials, Teach NJ has found true champions for the nonpublic school community. Its activists work to cultivate these relationships and create strong partnerships. To expand the number of these important legislative relationships, additional community members’ help is needed to create and maintain these connections.

Teach NJ is already working on policy requests for next year’s state budget—a process that begins at the start of 2023. Katz and her colleagues plan to continue to engage legislators by having them visit community schools and shuls, as well as setting up smaller group meetings with community members.

Katz continually stressed the need for community involvement: “Elected officials want to know what their constituents care about. We need people to get involved in the effort to make Jewish education more affordable, so please reach out if you or someone you know can help!”

Learn more about Teach NJ: https://teachcoalition.org/nj/

By Michal Rosenberg

 

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