From the Desk of Michael D. Cohen, New York State Director of Political Affairs
In most years, with the New York State budget deadline quickly approaching on April 1st it would be incredibly difficult to gain the attention of any member of the legislature let alone leadership. However, this year has been markedly less controversial allowing us to garner some notice in Albany of the Orthodox Union’s advocacy efforts. We have been working to remediate the formula by which CAP (Comprehensive Attendance Program) is mistakenly calculated, costing our day schools millions of precious dollars each year.
Since enacted, CAP, a critical mandated service for day schools, has been underfunded based on a flaw in the original legislation which created it about a half dozen years ago. Along with others in the Jewish communal organizational structure, we have aligned in these efforts with the New York State Catholic Conference and have jointly proposed the necessary budget language alterations to ensure that this issue is corrected in future fiscal years.
Unfortunately, there is an underlying reality that most legislators in Albany and their staffs are completely unaware that a day school tuition crisis even exists, a reflection of our community’s lack of presence in Albany over the years. While there are certainly a number of orthodox legislators or those who represent predominantly orthodox communities who are very much engaged on our issues it is clear that we need a much broader coalition in order to achieve long term, game changing gains.
Over the past few weeks I have spent countless hours meeting with legislators who are not from our community building relationships and educating them as to the severity of the problem day school parents’ face.
This effort has met with a very positive initial reaction. Just a few weeks ago I attended the Black, Latino and Asian Legislative Conference – the first and only time a major Jewish organization has been represented in its decades of existence. Besides having an opportunity to have access to dozens of legislators who will have a large role in deciding our long term success, we demonstrated that as a community we are not just asking for help, but we are looking to build the long term, mutually beneficial political alliances necessary to have us seen as relevant actors among those who control the levers of power.
It is critical however that our own community becomes more politically informed and active if the legislature is to respond to our long term efforts. I will make sure to keep you up to date on our activities as we continue to build the community and political infrastructure necessary to achieve our goals.
P.S. I would also like to mention that we have recently constructed a questionnaire for day schools as a guide to the resources already offered by the various levels of government. This form, the first of its kind, can serve as a checklist for administrators to ensure that each school is aware and taking advantage of every opportunity government has to currently offer. You can access this form through the Orthodox Union website. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or if you would like to go through it together.