Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, urged that the funding be restored; “it is important money,” he said.
April 2, 2009
Jewish day school advocates joined other supporters of private schools last week as they lobbied against an $11 million reduction in state aid proposed by Gov. Jon Corzine.
Private schools are facing a potential loss of $7 million in technology assistance earmarked for secular — but not religious — classroom study.
Another proposed cut of approximately $4 million would reduce state aid for school busing for private school students. The cut would limit state-sponsored transportation to elementary school students who live 20 miles or less from their schools and high school students who live less than 25 miles away.
But even as they spoke out at legislative hearings in Montclair and Trenton, day school representatives told NJ Jewish News they are drafting contingency plans for next year’s fall semester to cope with the potential cutbacks.
Howard Beigelman, deputy director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, was among those testifying before the State Assembly Budget Committee in Trenton on March 26.
“Technology and transportation are two cornerstones of educating children,” Beigelman testified. “They must have appropriate hardware to learn at the 21st-century level, and they must get to and from school safely.” “Both are in the state’s interest — as a matter of morality and as a matter of economic self-interest,” he said.
Representing the NJ Association of Jewish Day Schools, Batya Jacob testified at both a State Senate committee hearing on March 24 at Montclair State University and the Assembly committee meeting two days later.
Jacob represents some 15,000 students in the state’s 50 Jewish day schools.
“The proposed cut is $40 per student, which may seem like a small amount, but it is critical to the technology for our schools,” she told NJJN after testifying.
Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, urged the committee to restore the funding of the “nonpublic technology initiative.” The initiative financed a $7 million computer education program in the state’s private and parochial schools.
“It is important money,” he told NJJN in an interview prior to his testimony. “Private schools don’t get a lot of state money to begin with.”
Representing the state’s 12 Jewish federations, Toporek said they feel a ripple effect when other Jewish institutions suffer budget cuts.
“Our campaigns and fund-raising are down, too, and where do the day schools come when they need to bridge the gap? They come to us.”
‘Every dollar helps’
State Assembly member Louis Greenwald (D-Dist. 6), who chairs the State Assembly’s budget committee, told NJJN “it is too early to tell” whether the proposed cuts will become law. “Like most things, the budget is never rubber-stamped or passed in its original form.”
The Camden County legislator urged “the schools themselves to start to look at alternatives” and “other funding streams…. These proposed cuts have been made in the past but never in the same financial circumstances we face today. People need to take them seriously and have an open mind. Instead of digging in and saying, ‘No, not us,’ they need to take a true partnership approach and say, ‘OK, what can we do differently?’”
“It is literally impossible to predict at this point what the end result of this daunting balancing act will be,” said State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Dist. 18).
Responding by e-mail, Buono, the chair of the State Senate’s Budget and Appropriations Committee wrote that she “fully appreciates the need for parity and fairness in funding the needs of all our children, wherever they are enrolled in school.” She is, she said, “actively engaged in striving to find revenues to help to off-set some of these painful cuts.”
In the meantime, school administrators are making contingency plans for cost-cutting in the fall.
While she did not address the specific proposed cuts in aid, Joyce Raynor, head of school at Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union, said the school is feeling the effects of the financial downturn. Tuition assistance requests are “significantly greater” than they were a year ago, she said in an e-mail, but so, too, are scholarship funds. “We will be giving more scholarships for next year, not less,” she said.
Rabbi Elazar M. Teitz, rabbi and dean of the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, said, “Obviously these cuts would have an impact on our parents and on our funding — which is a disaster already.” He said that the JEC has been lobbying Trenton in a joint effort with Catholic schools in the area. “We just have to keep struggling,” he continued. “We got through the Depression, and with God’s help, we will get through this, too.”
Last year, the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey made some money available to help cover busing costs for parents of children who had attended the Solomon Schechter lower school in Cranford and — following its closing last June — were now sending them to the campus in West Orange.
Federation executive vice president Stanley Stone said the possibility of the new cuts created a much more complex situation. “It’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said. “Besides those 30 or so children going to Schechter, we now have as many as 10 times that number — maybe 400 — who travel by bus to the JEC.” He said no decisions had been reached but discussions are under way as to the response. “We’re contending with so many factors now; we need to find a more comprehensive program with regard to the schools,” he said.
Some public school advocates, however, say that in lean times the state’s first responsibility is to its public institutions.
Paul Tractenberg, who directs the Rutgers-Newark Institute on Education Law and Policy at the university’s law school, is a long-time advocate for greater state funding of public — not private — schools.
Beyond his advocacy of “a strong high wall of separation between church and state,” the law professor said he believes firmly that “we need to focus on the places where the great bulk of our students attend — the public schools. Roughly 90 percent of all school-age kids in the state go to public schools, with a much larger percent of low-income kids going to those schools. They are our first responsibility.”