Thirty years or more ago, when the late great Senator from New Jersey and UJA lay leader, Frank Lautenberg, greeted a mission from Bergen County to Washington, D.C. he was asked about school vouchers. His reply was a barely polite negative. Vouchers drain public schools of their resources, he said, and last week, so did three of the four Democratic candidates vying for Lautenberg’s seat. Thirty years later, Jewish parents in Bergen County and elsewhere are still talking about vouchers, cutting taxes, and so forth. In an interview with JLBC that will run in the next issue, State Senator Loretta Weinberg suggested strongly that vouchers are not going to make it through the next legislative session in Trenton. Perhaps tuition tax credits will work.
Back in the late ‘70s, like today, those Jewish parents are still being hit by a double whammy—yeshiva tuition and high property taxes, compounded by a sorry economy. And though it was tough, year after year, the Bergen County Jewish community voted yes on public school budgets because they understood that by taking their children out of the system, they were in one way or another diminishing the system, something that responsible neighbors want to avoid at all costs.
What we should all keep in mind is that serious budget cuts to education prevent our neighbors’ children from getting the kind of education that could train them not just to be cashiers at fast food joints and greeters at Walmart. They need a good education so that they can get good jobs, raise good families and pay taxes. By the same token the public school system should be held accountable and be transparent. By depriving kids of a good public school system, we deprive ourselves of good neighbors and a solid work force, and hurt our own economy.
Is it easy to cope with the tuition and taxes? No. Assuredly not. But perhaps we should think about different ways to make our yeshiva school system work, and get tuition relief without penalizing an already badly stressed public school system. Only time will prove that a lack of a good education is like a time bomb. When you will need a good work force, you won’t have one, and that spoils it for everyone. Including the Jewish community.