In late February, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America—the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization—and the Texas OU Community Advocacy Network (OU CAN)—a network of Texas Jewish community leaders committed to advocacy on behalf of Jewish education—held a day of advocacy in Austin to promote tuition affordability and a proposed tax credit scholarship program. The program, in existence in 11 other states, could help thousands of students across Texas have access to an education that better suits their needs.
The Mission to Austin, which brought together Jewish business, school and rabbinical leaders from the Houston, Dallas, and Austin Jewish communities, included meetings with high-ranking members of the Texas State House and Senate including Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Speaker of the House Joe Straus, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick. The group also spent time meeting and advocating with their local elected officials including Senators John Carona (R-Dallas), Ken Paxton (R-Dallas), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), and Rodney Ellis (D-Houston); and Representatives Stefani Carter (R-Dallas), Jim Murphy (R-Dallas), Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) and Sarah Davis (R-Houston).
Shira Yosher, OU CAN member and parent from the Robert M. Beren Academy in Houston, said to the mission: “The OU Community Advocacy Network Mission to Austin was an excellent opportunity for Jewish school choice advocates from around Texas to join together, learn from each other, and promote this important initiative with legislators from across the political spectrum.”
Ms. Yosher and the other mission participants met with Texas legislators to advocate on behalf of a newly proposed tax credit scholarship program, which, if passed, will offer Texas businesses a tax credit for donations made to nonprofit scholarship granting organizations. “Many students are stuck in underperforming schools or schools that simply don’t meet their educational needs, and that this proposal has the potential to offer thousands of Texas students the opportunity to receive a scholarship to attend a nonpublic school,” she said.
Additionally, the group met with Senator Patrick and Lt. Governor Dewhurst–the proposal’s two most vocal proponents—to lend the community’s support for their efforts and to hear more details on the specifics and progress of the legislation. The aspects of the bill of most relevance to the Jewish communities include student eligibility requirements, the structure of the scholarship funds, and ensuring that religious practices of their school are not infringed upon as a result of accepting scholarship students.
Lt. Governor Dewhurst declared after the very successful meeting with Jewish leaders:
“As a product of the Texas public education system, I am among its greatest supporters, but it is immoral to leave more than 300,000 Texas students trapped in failing schools. We need to focus on what is best for our children, not the educators or the unions. This legislative session I will fight to create a scholarship program that gives students in need the opportunity to attend a private or religious school with help from Texas businesses and the private sector. Having recently met with your leaders from across the state, I know I can count on support from your (Jewish day school) community on this and many other challenges.”
This mission was the result of a year-long Orthodox Union-led effort to bring leaders of the Texas Jewish day school community together in their support of government-created programs that could aid the accessibility and affordability of day school education.
Following the mission, Jesse Hervitz, associate political director for the Orthodox Union remarked:
“The mission provided our Texas CAN members with the incredible opportunity to spend a day in Austin engaging and fostering relationships with their elected officials to address the issue of tuition affordability in our communities. It was amazing to see such a diverse group of Jewish leaders united behind a single cause, especially one as important as educational affordability and parental school choice. We look forward to continuing our work with legislators, coalition partners, and members of the Texas Jewish community to address this serious issue.”
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