The students at Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva (RPRY) danced in the schoolyard, commemorating Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day), oblivious to the serious issues being discussed a few feet away.
While his students celebrated, Yehuda Kohn, executive director at RPRY, stopped in the schoolyard to show New Jersey Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak (LD-18) where the school would like to update its perimeter fence.
“Upgrading our security with the best equipment and technology is a huge priority for our school,” Yehuda Kohn said. “The security funds we receive from the state of New Jersey help make that possible. It’s important for legislators to see what those funds mean for us in an up-close and personal way.”
For Jewish schools in New Jersey, building a perimeter fence, upgrading security equipment and hiring security guards are a top priority. Finding the funds to make these expensive investments is another story.
While public schools receive $144 per student in state aid for security purposes, nonpublic schools only receive $50 per student for the 2016-2017 school year.
For Assemblyman Karabinchak, seeing the school’s needs made a big impact.
“Visiting local schools and seeing their challenges up close gives me a better feel for what they need to operate effectively and safely,” Assemblyman Karabinchak said. “We need to make sure all of New Jersey’s children are safe and healthy in any school they attend. I will do everything I can to help all schools protect our children and get the funding needed in these critical areas.”
The visit to RPRY is part of a statewide effort by the OU’s Teach NJS to underscore the need for increased nonpublic school funding with local legislators.
In 2016, Teach NJS scored a major victory when the legislature passed and Gov. Christie signed the Secure Schools for All Children Act, the first new funding line in the state budget for nonpublic school students in more than two decades. However, these funds are still disproportionally lower than those for their public school counterparts. In total, nonpublic schools received $223 per student in 2016-2017 for security, school nurse, technology and textbook aid. This year, Teach NJS is asking for $500 per student.
The disparity in school nurse funding often means nonpublic schools only have enough funding to hire a part-time nurse. The importance of a full-time nurse is particularly important in schools servicing students with serious medical issues like diabetes or life-threatening allergies.
Rachel Ovitz is a parent in Cherry Hill, New Jersey who left her job in Philadelphia to take a job as a marketing director at Politz Day School to provide daily medical attention to her two daughters who suffer from type-one diabetes. Politz Day School only employs a part-time nurse because of the lack of government aid.
Teach NJS is making its way across the Garden State. While Assemblyman Karabinchak toured Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva on May 2, Teach NJS brought State Sen. Bob Gordon (LD-38) and Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle (LD-37) to Ben Porat Yosef (BPY) in Paramus in April. Throughout May, Teach NJS brought U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05) to Yavneh Academy in Paramus, Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle to The Moriah School in Englewood, and State Sen. Bob Gordon to TABC and Yeshivat He’Atid. On June 2, Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (LD-11) joined Teach NJS for a visit to Hillel Yeshiva School in Deal.
“I’m thankful to Teach NJS for arranging these school visits,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle. “It is extremely important for me to visit the schools in my district and learn about the schools’ needs and concerns on the ground. It’s vital that all our children have the resources they need to succeed.”
“I am proud to support efforts that would provide additional funding to our nonpublic schools for security,” Assemblyman Houghtaling added. “I believe that all children have the right to attend safe and secure schools regardless of whether they attend public or private schools.”
The New Jersey budget process has played out over the spring with a budget deadline of June 30. Teach NJS’s goal is to shine a light on the disparity plaguing nonpublic schools to encourage the legislature and the governor to act.
Teach NJS points to neighboring New York as an example of what is possible. This year, the New York State legislature and Gov. Cuomo passed a budget containing $40 million in security funds for nonpublic schools at the urging of Teach NYS.
“Every child deserves to go to school in a safe environment and have access to nursing care no matter what type of school they attend,” said Teach NJS co-chair Sam Moed. “These visits are an educational opportunity for our legislators to really see the pressures and concerns our schools and communities deal with on a daily basis.”
The legislators appreciate the opportunity, but they are not the only ones who are learning.
When sixth-grader Ezra was asked what he learned after meeting Sen. Bob Gordon at BPY, he didn’t miss a beat. “I learned from Teach NJS that kids are allowed to speak their opinion.”
Teach NJS urges members of the New Jersey Jewish community and schools to get involved and become advocates for fairness in education funding. To bring a legislator to your school or get involved, please contact Ariella Noveck, director of field operations for Teach NJS, at [email protected] or Josh Caplan, state director, at
By Aliza Warshavchik