$22 million. That is the amount of funding schools within New Jersey’s Orthodox communities would have been entitled to from the CRRSA Act, passed by Congress earlier this year. In the act, Congress set aside $2.75 billion for the nation’s nonpublic schools through the Emergency Assistance for Nonpublic Schools program (“EANS”) to be allocated by each state to its nonpublic schools.
In New Jersey, the allocation for nonpublic schools was $68,749,847. With some 50,000 Orthodox Jewish students enrolled in the state’s nonpublic schools, amounting to about one third of New Jersey’s total nonpublic school population, yeshivos in New Jersey would be entitled to some $22 million to pay for student services. Some of the allowable uses for the money would include special expenses that were incurred due to Covid-19, such as extra tutors to make up for learning loss or cleaning equipment for next school year.
As with every form of government funding, the red tape attached can make usage of the funds exceedingly complex. In this case, New Jersey barred schools from contracting with private entity providers when using the funds. While seemingly an insignificant detail, this regulation effectively meant that most of our communities’ schools would not be able to retain their current private sector providers, whose staff are already familiar with the students and work effectively with them. Instead, schools would only be allowed to contract with public entities. Aside from the pedagogical and logistical challenge of switching to public sector providers, there was an additional, more compelling reason that switching to public sector providers would not work: there is simply not enough manpower in the public sector staff to meet the needs of the nonpublic schools throughout the state.
Administrators and principals of schools throughout New Jersey were exasperated; the grants were too significant to simply wave off, yet this one regulation stood as an insurmountable barrier, not allowing schools to actually use the much-needed grant money.
So they turned to Rabbi Avi Schnall, director of Agudah’s New Jersey Office.
Rabbi Schnall immediately engaged legislators, officials at the New Jersey Department of Education, and his contacts within the Governor’s office about changing this restriction. When the initial response was not what he had hoped for, Rabbi Schnall plowed on, writing a flurry of emails to the powers-that-be and holding a plethora of Zoom calls with the relevant stakeholders, all stressing the critical need to change the regulations to allow our communities’ children to benefit from the funding. Passaic Assemblyman Gary S. Schaer, who has unfailingly championed the cause of the state’s nonpublic school students, worked hand-in-hand with Rabbi Schnall, going through the nitty-gritty of the state lawmaking process, intent on resolving the issue for our schools.
On Sunday, Rabbi Schnall got the phone call he was waiting for. It was one of the top officials at the Governor’s office, informing him that they had worked with the Department of Education to change the regulations, removing the barrier to getting our students the services they need. In an email to school administrators, Rabbi Schnall wrote, “We are thrilled to inform you that, after many weeks of hard work and much siyatta dishmaya, we received the much-anticipated notification from the Governor’s office that they have worked with the Department of Education to change the EANS funding restrictions and will now allow private companies to access the funds.”
The victory is compounded by the fact that there will be yet another round of EANS funding next year bringing the total amount of funding to our schools to $44 million over two years. Rabbi Schnall expressed his gratitude to Assemblyman Schaer, who, together with his staff, spent many hours working on this issue. “The Assemblyman has never shied away from an opportunity to be there for our students, and this latest saga is a shining example of how the Assemblyman continues to be a leading benefactor for our schools,” said Rabbi Schnall.
Rabbi Schnall also thanked Governor Phil Murphy’s administration for working with him to resolve this issue. “The Governor has consistently been there for our community. His willingness to work with us trickles down to every aspect of his administration and in particular, his chief of staff, George Helmy, and deputy chiefs of staff, Deborah Cornavaca and Justin Braz, deserve tremendous credit for getting this hurdle removed.”