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November 20, 2016 8:40 am

Making Jewish Education Better, Safer and More Affordable

avatar by Maury Litwack

Yeshiva students. Photo: Matanya via Wikimedia Commons.

Yeshiva students. Photo: Matanya via Wikimedia Commons.

We hear the same complaint every year: The cost of tuition for day schools is a burden that many Jewish families can’t afford.

This grievance is understandable. With tuition at many New York-area day schools hovering above $20,000 a year (and some approaching $30,000), a Jewish education seems more like a luxury than a staple of Jewish life.

But this crisis has not fallen on deaf ears. Since its founding in 2013, Teach NYS, a project of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, has fought to make Jewish education affordable for all families. We have expanded our efforts beyond New York state and into New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida — and we have plans to grow nationwide.

Consider New York, where there are about 150,000 students enrolled in yeshivas and Jewish day schools; in New York City alone, Jewish student enrollment reached record levels this year, with more than 100,000 children enrolled. In New York, though roughly 13 percent of children attend non-public schools, they receive a meager 1 percent of government education funds. Teach NYS is working to level the playing field.

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By working with member schools, parents, and local and federal policy makers, Teach NYS has delivered significant resources for non-public schools. In 2012, the New York state legislature spent $111 million on non-public schools. Today, that number has increased to $345 million annually.

Here are four ways we are making Jewish education better and safer across New York state:

1)  Funding for State-Mandated Measures: Every year, Teach NYS lobbies the legislature for funding services that non-public schools must carry out. For 2016-2017, advocacy by Teach NYS helped bring that total to $103 million.

2) Security: For the first time in New York City’s history, Jewish day schools and yeshivas have access to $20 million in city funds for hiring security guards under Local Law 2. Teach NYS also helped make schools safer by advocating for Governor Andrew Cuomo to make security funds from the SAFE Act available to non-public schools. That gave Jewish day schools and yeshivas access to $15 million for items such as intercoms, remote access systems and central lockdown buttons.

3) After-School Funding: This year, Teach NYS helped Jewish schools and yeshivas in Long Island’s Five Towns get access to $600,000 in grants for after-school programs.

4) Universal Pre-K: Teach NYS has fought to make more than $15 million of the universal pre-K government funds available to Jewish day schools. We’re also working to make Jewish day schools eligible for New York City funds under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-K program.

There is a long way to go, but these successes and our continued work are helping schools stabilize costs and freeze tuition increases. The more parents and schools join our efforts, the louder our voices will be. And if we are loud enough, the policy makers will listen.

Maury Litwack is director of state political affairs for the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center. This article was originally published in The Jewish Star.

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