Rabbi Steven Weil

OU Advocacy’s Work in Albany

April 7, 2014

March was a very important month-particularly this past week-for New York Jewish day schools. If you haven’t been following OU Advocacy’s work in Albany, OU Advocacy’s New York team, led by Jeff Leb, conducted a “full-court press” in the New York Assembly and Senate last month on behalf of New York’s Jewish day schools. Their efforts paid off: on Monday night, the Legislature approved the New York state budget, which contains an unprecedented amount of funding for non-public schools.

Here is a snapshot of the allocations that benefit day schools:

  • Mandated Services Reimbursements (MSR) and Comprehensive Attendance Program (CAP) – two state reporting programs required for private schools. Together, the two programs received $142.5 million-the largest amount ever allocated to these two programs;
  • CAP Funding Payback: For the first time ever, the state allocated $16 million toward a multi-year payment plan that will begin to pay down its balance of $220 million for the years it underfunded the CAP program;
  • School Safety Funding: The non-public school community was once again allocated $4.5 Million for school safety equipment;
  • Smart Schools Bond Act: The $2 billion Smart Schools bond would provide money for capital improvements and technology to both public and non-public schools. OU Advocacy-Teach NYS worked with New York State leadership to ensure the inclusion of private and faith-based schools after they were not included in the initial proposal. If this bond referendum is approved by NY voters in November, every yeshiva and Jewish day school would see an allocation of up to $250 per student for a total of $31,250,000 for the yeshiva/Jewish day school community;
  • Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK): The state allocated $340 million to UPK in the budget. Most of this funding will go to New York City and the rest will go to school districts across the state to establish UPK programs.

As far as that aforementioned “full-court press,” OU Advocacy put forth a tremendous effort to build relationships between our state legislators and the Jewish community. Beginning with the Schools in Session initiative in the fall and continuing through the series of mini-missions in March-which brought delegations to Albany from the Five Towns, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Riverdale and Westchester-the Advocacy team created opportunities for our legislators to see our schools, to meet our community members and to really understand the challenges we face-particularly tuition affordability-on a personal level. In addition, through its Action Alert, more than 2,000 messages were sent to our elected officials during the last week of March urging them to support the legislative items in the agenda that benefit Jewish day schools.

Now that we have received this historic level of funding, our job is to thank the legislators who helped promote these initiatives and make them a reality for Jewish day schools. Just as persistent and consistent lobbying is important to our legislators, so is saying thank you. If you live in New York, I encourage you to contact our state legislators to say thank you for their unyielding support of Jewish day schools and the Jewish community. (In this spirit of hakaras hatov, I also thank Director of State Political Affairs and Outreach Maury Litwack, who is instrumental in OU Advocacy’s success in bringing constituents from our communities to various state capitals.)