For decades, Jewish parents have grumbled about the “tuition crisis” – the problem of sky-high tuition at private Jewish day schools. Teach NYS and its parent organization, the Orthodox Union, are working to chip away at the problem.
Teach NYS started four years ago with the goal of fighting for fair funding for nonpublic schools. Nonpublic school students in New York make up 16 percent of the student population but receive less than two percent of state education funds.
To maximize it impact, Teach NYS opted for a new paradigm, borrowing strategies from major trade associations and corporations. The OU hired lobbyists in Albany and partnered with Jewish day schools, parents, lay leaders, and volunteers across New York. It organized meetings with legislators, hosted informational meetings in Jewish communities, brought legislators to Jewish schools to give them on-the-ground understanding, and arranged grassroots missions to Albany.
“We all pay school taxes because we want to make sure all children have access to a good education,” said Cal Nathan, a HAFTR parent and Teach NYS board member. “But that should apply no matter what kind of school a child attends. Doesn’t every child have a right to the same top-notch math and science education? Doesn’t every child deserve to go to school in a safe environment?”
Elected officials in Albany seem to be listening. Before Teach NYS started four years ago, nonpublic schools received approximately $110 million from New York State. In this year’s budget, legislators allocated nearly $300 million to nonpublic schools, including Jewish day schools and yeshivas.
Before 2013, New York nonpublic schools received zero dollars for security purposes. In 2013, Teach NYS advocated for a modest $4.5 million for this purpose. The number grew to $15 million last year and $40 million in this year’s budget – the largest security allocation for nonpublic schools in the country.
The $300 million in state funding also includes money to begin to reimburse nonpublic schools for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers. The legislature made the unprecedented decision to invest directly in the education of all children, including nonpublic school students in Jewish day schools and yeshivas.
“This year’s budget is a groundbreaking achievement for the New York Jewish community,” said Allen Fagin, CEO of the Orthodox Union. “While the initial STEM funding is a relatively small piece of the $300 million victory, it represents a tremendous shift in how New York State invests in nonpublic schools, including our Jewish day schools. If we continue down this path, we will make a real difference for Jewish families in day school affordability.”
Teach NYS worked closely with Gov. Cuomo’s office and legislative leaders in Albany to make the budget a reality. One of the program’s biggest backers is Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who represents parts of Suffolk County. “The STEM funding is a huge victory for everyone who cares about education,” he said. “It’s a recognition that New York has a vested interest in making sure all children have the educational opportunities for success.”
For school principals and administrators, working with Teach NYS has been a transformative experience.
“Our school has been working with Teach NYS for a couple of years, and they have changed the way the Jewish community fights for our schools,” said Rabbi Perry Tirschwell, executive director at Shulamith School for Girls.
“Hiring quality math and science teachers is a tremendous expense, but a critical part of preparing our students for the future. Growing the STEM program and eradicating the inequity in education funding will be a game changer.”