New Jersey: School Choice Efforts Gaining Speed
The last two months has seen increased attention on school choice advocacy in New Jersey. Leading the pack was the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which would have provided corporate tax scholarships to children from income-eligible families residing in failing school districts to attend the schools of their choice. The OU was involved with every aspect of this bill from the time of its creation. We made sure that it would be available to students from Orthodox communities who resided in failing school districts (Elizabeth, Passaic and Lakewood) and that the regulations wouldn’t preclude our day schools from participating. This bill has been a galvanizing tool for our community to increase voter registration, turn out at small and large-scale events with politicians, and give our rabbinic and lay leadership networks an opportunity to understand the importance and opportunity that government funding offers as a viable “game changer” to our tuition crisis.
As the new legislative session begins, we will build on this momentum together with our partners in the school choice coalition and introduce a bill that would provide every child in the state with the ability to attend the school of their choice. We also plan on working on other means of state funding in the coming year including but not limited to the restoration of technology funding, increasing nursing aid, making special education funding available to all children independent of the school they choose to attend, and other forms of funding for our children’s education. All items which community members around the state have identified as critical to the sustainability of our Jewish day schools.
Pennsylvania: EITC continues to provide real relief and vouchers are just around the corner…
The OU has been to Pennsylvania many times in the past year to testify, to meet with the Governor, and to craft strategy with our local leadership on the increasing school choice activity in the state. We have been working with local lay leadership to build a coordinated plan for Jewish day school advocacy. The Education Improvement Tax Credit program (EITC) which provides tax credits for business contributions to scholarship funds and is a major lifeline to many of our day schools has the potential to be increased and provide more relief. We were also delighted to support the Governor on his initiative to introduce a voucher program in the state which would have provided significant across the board funding to our institutions. Governor Corbett, who as a candidate attended OU shul Lower Merion Synagogue and learned about these issues, is part of a growing list of Governors the OU has been reaching out to in order to collaborate on school choice initiatives which aid our community. We are hopeful that school choice will continue to be a mandate for Governor Corbett and we will continue to work with our leadership on the ground to make that a reality.
Florida: Anti-Religious Amendment Up For Repeal
The Blaine amendment, a state constitutional amendment, exists in a majority of states and prevents taxpayer money from being allocated towards religious organizations. This amendment is currently up for repeal in the 2012 general election. What remains a question is whether this repeal will impact the ability for Florida’s religious day schools to receive voucher funding. When vouchers were previously passed in Florida, it was struck down utilizing a different provision in the constitution. The OU has supported the repeal of the Blaine amendment, but in the field and the legislature the larger issue is the state of Florida’s successful tax credit program. Two different pieces of legislation have been filed in the Florida House and Senate to expand the program and make other changes, including the possibility of removing the current requirement that a child has to be previously enrolled in a public school to participate in the program. Our Jewish day schools currently receive millions of dollars in scholarship aid from this program and an increase in the funding level would result in more of our children being eligible for this important aid.