ORTHODOX UNION TESTIFIES FOR EDUCATION TAX CREDITS IN NEW JERSEY- CONTINUES ADVOCACY EFFORTS FOR ORTHODOX FAMILIES AND OTHERS; CITES SUCCESSES ELSEWHERE FOR DAY SCHOOLS AND PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Today, the Orthodox Union (Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America) through its Institute for Public Affairs, testified before the New Jersey Senate’s Committee on Economic Development in support of S.1872, the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA). OSA is a bi-partisan bill primarily sponsored by Senators Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) who chairs the committee and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield). The state education commissioner, Bret Schundler, a nationally recognized leader in school reform, also testified in support of the legislation on behalf of Governor Chris Christie, marking the first time such legislation in New Jersey had the support of the administration. (Similar legislation proposed in the past never obtained the support of then-Governor Jon Corzine.)
The testimony made note of the Jewish people’s commitment to education throughout history, including during wars, persecution and other difficulties. Citing Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth who said “Our citadels are schools, our passion, education, and our greatest heroes, teachers,” the OU indicated its support for such programs should come as no surprise, even if the program initially helps few in the OU’s own community of Orthodox Jews, with support not only as a critical first step to helping all families across New Jersey, but to help those in need right now:
“This is about helping children in need. We ask that they realize this legislation helps both those who leave a failing school and those who stay.”
The OSA is a five-year pilot program, modeled on successful tax credit programs enacted in Pennsylvania, Florida and other states across the country. A similar proposal in Maryland passed the State Senate and attracted the support of the state’s Democratic governor, Martin O’Malley, but stalled at the last moment in a House committee. OSA would create scholarships funded by corporate donations, for which those corporations receive a tax credit from the state of New Jersey. Under the legislation, initially the tax credits are only available to those living in failing school districts, though unused funds would be available to anyone within that county who met the scholarship criteria. At least three Jewish communities would benefit from the program: Elizabeth, Lakewood and Passaic.
The OU noted that passing the legislation would be in keeping with the teachings of the Talmudic sage, Hillel, who when asked to explain Torah on “one foot” suggested “what is distasteful to you, do not do unto others.” OU executive vice president emeritus, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb taught that precept “means more than not acting badly to others but to proactively create, fund and find for others that which we value for ourselves and our families. If we value a good education for our own children, we can’t be satisfied until every child has it.”
The OU urges those who oppose the program–which includes those in the Jewish community who cite church-state concerns or other reasons to visit failing schools and successful nonpublic schools serving similar or the same neighborhoods and student populations–to choose the best policy for those children:
“We all want – we need – our public schools to be the best they can. But there are children in this state, in 2010, in failing schools. We urge any skeptic of this legislation to visit those schools, and then to visit a local nonpublic school nearby that has the same student population.”
The testimony was delivered by Howie Beigelman, OU Deputy Director of Public Policy who stated:
“This is the year our political stars align to begin helping children and families in need with real educational options. This pilot program makes sense fiscally, educationally and morally. With the help of our untiring legislative sponsors – Senators Lesniak and Kean – and a willing and supportive governor, our desperate parents and students will get the change and assistance they need.”
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