There are two types of politicians we encounter when advocating to relieve our community’s tuition burden through the use of government funding: those who claim to be 100 percent behind us, and those who claim to be 100 percent against us. What’s interesting is that politicians in both categories do not seem to understand what “100 percent” means.
Those against us are adamant that no dollar should be spent for private schools since they argue that it takes away money from the public schools and that 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 the 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. Our community supports the attainment of excellent educational opportunities – both private and public – for all.
These politicians, though, have an antiquated view of our community’s requests, and believe that we are only going after vouchers that, in their view, will eventually close down all public schools. Vouchers obviously won’t close down public schools; even charter schools didn’t wipe out public schools. These types of politicians require a laundry list of other issues important to Jewish education, which don’t scream voucher and ones 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 issues for our children, they obviously can’t say no to such a request. When we have asked them for even the most basic requests, e.g. textbooks (even used), their initial stone-cold opposition has melted.
The 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 public speech. But their actions didn’t match their words when it came to our actual requests for support regarding voucher or tax credit funding. Both politicians froze when asked specific details about their public support, questions they didn’t seem to expect from anyone. They quickly created a variety of excuses (political caucus issues, for one) for why they couldn’t support our requests.
Politicians like the ones I’ve described 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 from them, and lobbied for many more voices to ask the same questions that we solicit, they have acted.
Both types of “100 percent” politicians are of no use to Jewish education if they are not properly engaged. We need to show those who choose to be completely against us why we agree on many things, and although there is opposition in some cases there are opportunities for support in many others. Those who choose to be completely for us must be moved from delivering lip service to doing something substantive – actions that impact our community in a positive way. That will turn these politicians from talking heads to real champions.
Maury Litwack is the director of political affairs for the Orthodox Union. Prior to his work with the OU, he served on the government advocacy team of Miami-Dade County, one of the largest counties in the country.