This piece was originally published in The Jewish Press on January 18, 2012.
There are two types of politicians who we encounter when we are advocating to relieve our community’s tuition burden through the use of government funding – those who claim they are a 100% behind us and those who claim they are 100% against us. What’s funny is that neither category of politician seems to understand what 100% means.
The 100% politicians who are against us are adamant that no dollar should be spent for private school, since they argue that it takes away money from the public schools and it’s unconstitutional. It certainly is constitutional, and we at the OU are happy to share a wide variety of opinions and Amicus briefs on that matter, but this argument stems from a politician’s desire to not even think about this issue. As for the detriment to public schools, even if we show them that a tax credit program is often built with triggers to save the state money, this doesn’t appease such a politician. As a community, we support the attainment of excellent educational opportunities – both private and public – for all.
These politicians, though, have an antiquated view on our community’s requests and believe that we are only going after vouchers which, in their view, will eventually close down all public schools. Vouchers obviously won’t close down public schools – even charter schools didn’t wipe public schools off the map. These types of politicians require a laundry list of other issues important to Jewish education, which don’t scream voucher and they could support. When we have engaged such politicians on special education they can’t deny that such an expenditure is worthwhile. When we have engaged them on safety for our children they obviously can’t say no to such a request. When we have asked them for even the most basic requests, textbooks (even used!) their original stone-cold opposition has melted.
The 100% politicians who are for everything we do are surprisingly not that different. I met last year with two different political leaders in state legislatures who are pro-private school funding on paper, on the campaign trail, and in nearly every speech…except in the actual requests we made to them regarding sponsoring or supporting voucher or tax credit funding. Both politicians froze when asked specific details of their support, which they had never actually expected anyone to ask them, and quickly created a variety of excuses for why they couldn’t support our proposals due to other people or other factors in their political caucus.
Politicians such as these get by for many years by flashing their ideological credentials and never expecting anyone to call them out on what they’ve actually done for our community or what they plan on doing in the near future. When we have remained in contact with these politicians, demanded specifics, and forced many more voices to ask the same questions then they have acted.
Both types of 100% politicians are of zero use to Jewish education if they are not properly engaged. Those that choose to be completely against us we need to show them why we agree on many things and although there is opposition in some cases there are opportunities for support in many others. Those that choose to be completely for us must be moved beyond lip service to something substantive, which impacts our community and turns them from a talking head to an actual champion.