After an eventful New York State budget season, which included skirting government shutdown and the passage of late night extender bills, the New York State 2017-18 budget was finally approved by the Senate and Assembly.
While the budget includes items of general interest like the nation’s first, free public college tuition program for families with incomes below $125,000, here is an update on items of specific interest to the Orthodox Jewish community, as reviewed by the Agudath Israel legal team:
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Security has been a major priority for Agudath Israel the past few sessions in Albany. Last year, Agudath Israel requested an increase in security funding for nonpublic schools, and was pleased when NY tripled its annual security funding allocation from $4.5 million to $15 million. This year’s budget once again included $15 million for nonpublic schools.
Agudath Israel applauds the Governor for championing an additional $25 million toward security for at-risk nonpublic schools, community centers, and day care facilities. This funding is appreciated and sorely needed in today’s climate of hate.
Another key improvement impacts nonpublic school participation in the Smart Schools Bond Act (SSBA). The SSBA is a $2 billion commitment by NYS toward updating education for public schools, but includes a provision for technology items to nonpublic schools. For over a year, Agudath Israel has been at the forefront, along with other nonpublic school groups, of advocating that the funds allocated to nonpublic schools under the SSBA have been wholly inadequate from a legal and equitable perspective. See Agudath Israel brief here. After multiple hearings at the Governor’s office and before the Senate, Agudath Israel was pleased to see the budget grant an additional $25 million toward certain technology equipment for nonpublic schools. With Jewish schools accounting for 36% of the nonpublic school sector, this means over $9 million in new funding to our community. The language of the budget, in fact, cites the precise rationale Agudath Israel articulated in its brief for the allocation of additional funds. But perhaps more significantly, the budget includes a directive to the SSBA Review Board to disapprove any district plan not in accordance with the Agudath Israel methodology for calculating funds – which should result in additional redirected funds toward nonpublic schools.
Agudath Israel recognizes NYS Budget Director, Robert Mujica; former Secretary to the Governor, Bill Mulrow; NYS Deputy Secretary of Education, Jere Hochman; and NYS Assistant Counsel to Governor Cuomo, Terry Pratt, for their receptivity and leadership on this issue.
In another chapter in a decade-long saga, the state budgeted $60 million to repay CAP debt to nonpublic schools. Comprehensive Attendance Policy (CAP) funding is one of the most significant state sources of funding to private schools. Nearly a decade ago, Agudath Israel led the nonpublic school community in identifying a flaw in the funding formula, which resulted in an unjust shortfall of millions of dollars to nonpublic schools. Over the past two years, a whopping $250 million has flowed to nonpublic schools to repay that debt. Agudath Israel estimated the shortfall at $330.2 million dollars. In Albany this year, one of Agudath Israel’s goals was to retain that final $80.2 million. With $310 of the total estimated $330.2 million paid or budgeted to be paid, the state is close to finally, and fully, closing this gap.
Last year, Agudath Israel conducted a detailed survey of 63 schools to determine the correct reimbursement rate for nonpublic schools complying with the mandate to track immunizations. The survey revealed that nonpublic schools have been shorted $7.7 million dollars for immunization reimbursement. The actual cost for compliance is nearly $30 per child, but as Agudath Israel’s Associate Director of Education Affairs Avrohom Weinstock, Esq. dramatically illustrated in a meeting with senators by counting out 60 cents in petty change – the current reimbursement rate was set in 1984 and never updated. Agudath Israel applauds the Senate for standing up for nonpublic schools and championing the correction of this flaw by allocating $7 million in response to Agudath Israel’s pleas. This will be a recurring, well-deserved, new funding stream to the community’s educational institutions.
Agudath Israel congratulates TEACH NYS/Orthodox Union for securing $5 million in funding for STEM subjects, the focus of their lobbying efforts this year. These funds will benefit a number of Jewish schools across the state.
A consequential disappointment this year, however, is tuition tax credits. Day school parents struggle courageously to pay taxes and tuition so their children can receive a quality Jewish education. Tuition may be a family’s single, most onerous financial burden. Recognizing this significant communal challenge, Agudath Israel’s legal team drafted, and Agudath Israel’s activists advanced, an innovative tax credit directly to middle-class parents struggling to pay tuition. While we do not hide our disappointment in this year’s pronouncement on the matter, advocacy is a marathon, not a sprint. Agudath Israel’s advocates in NY will continue to coordinate and collaborate with the organization’s regional directors who have successfully championed game-changing school choice funding initiatives in Florida, Maryland, Ohio and other states.
Agudath Israel is pleased with many of these developments: tangible increases in aid to Jewish schools; necessary, new security funding to schools and community centers; and widely expanded new allocations toward modernizing classroom learning. Government is listening. But the plight of the middle-class, tuition-paying parent is real and dire. New York State must respond and assist the taxpaying parents who save the state nearly $8 billion and have a right to choose where to educate their children. We hope that our representatives heed this call.