As New York State’s legislative session began in January, our community – and the nonpublic school community broadly – had the highest hopes. For the first time in perhaps decades, there were several legislative proposals on Albany’s agenda that, taken together, would significantly support Jewish day schools and bolster their finances.
And while New York legislators did not enact all the measures we sought, we see, with the budget having been finalized last week, that we achieved historic levels of government support for our schools in the Empire State.
These successes are the result of our community’s advocacy, its partnership with likeminded allies, and the responsiveness of the legislative and executive leadership in supporting our community’s needs.
We are privileged to have allies in Albany such as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The speaker has been an ally on efforts to bring real funding to help alleviate affordability issues facing yeshivas and day schools, and that was the case in this budget cycle.
We also express our deep gratitude to Senate co-leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein and to Governor Cuomo for their commitment to creatively serving our community.
Still, some in our community are critical of our state leaders because we did not see every item on our wish list become law. Certainly, we share the concerns that the Education Investment Tax Credit (EITC) did not make it into the final budget agreement, though it was a lofty goal. Almost a decade ago, when TEACH-NYS was first formed and OU Advocacy was initially expanding its policy and political efforts to statehouses, this was the first policy each of us supported in Albany.
However, even without EITC, this new budget, taken objectively, is the best any yeshiva day school advocate has seen in decades. That’s true in terms of net dollars and cents, and it’s equally true on precedent-setting inclusion in new state funding programs.
New York’s Mandated Services Reimbursement (MSR) is fully funded this year at $90 million and an additional $7 million was allocated to pay past-due amounts. In addition, CAP, the Comprehensive Attendance Program, an anti-truancy mandate from the state, is now at $45 million, an increase from last year and the largest amount we have received for this funding.
Furthermore, an additional $16 million in back payment for CAP was allocated, equal to over ten percent of amounts owed. The back payment was part of an unprecedented multi-year payment plan, championed by Speaker Silver, which will ensure that the state make good on the hundreds of millions of dollars in CAP arrears. This represents the largest combined payback of the CAP and MSR debts owed our schools. These are bedrock state programs for the nonpublic school community.
In addition, nonpublic schools will receive almost $5 million in security funds. Besides the crucial, lifesaving need this program – like its federal counterpart, the Nonprofit Security Grant Program – addresses, what is unique here is that last year’s initial $4.5 million grants were thought to be a one-time allocation. However, we have now proven that with dedicated advocacy we can maintain such programs. The security funding came about last year as a separate allocation due to our community schools being left out of the state’s SAFE Act for public schools.
This year we were able, through our advocacy, to ensure our children’s participation in new programs including both the budget’s Smart Schools bond and Universal Pre-K (UPK) programs. In neither of the initial versions of these programs was there equal or equitable treatment of nonpublic school students.
Of course, there is no reason – legal, constitutional, or policy – for students to be left out just because they are in a nonpublic school. Every child deserves the most current technology if they are to learn to be productive in our tech-centered society. Every child – in any program – deserves that opportunity.
Over $31 million will be available to our community if the bond proposal passes in a voter referendum, and any school is able to access UPK reimbursement so long as they have a certified teacher (for which reimbursement is $10,000/student) or are working toward certification (reimbursed at $7,000). These provisions of the new budget are almost surely a result of the Assembly Majority’s budget, due to Speaker Silver’s insistence.
We cannot thank enough our professional staff, their partners in our coalition (Agudath Israel, the Catholic Conference, and UJA-Federation), and the dedicated educators, rabbis, community leaders, parents, and especially students who called, e-mailed, and traveled to Albany to press this case.
But of one thing we are certain: as important as advocacy is, it is nothing without champions in elected office. Champions like Assembly Speaker Silver, who continues to be an advocate for our cause each and every day and who fought for unprecedented funding in this budget cycle. Champions like Senate co-leaders Klein and Skelos and Governor Cuomo, who helped deliver this record funding.
We must note that the year is not over. Special education funding and energy parity legislation are still being debated in Albany. We can continue to succeed through the continued partnership of our communal advocates and our legislative champions.