Its been several weeks since our last newsletter. During that time, much has happened. Several states have enacted their annual budget bills, and others are winding down their legislative sessions (see below). Agudath Israel launched its Harry H. Beren webinar series and we spoke out against a NYC Council candidate who spewed hate and bigotry. Tragically, Agudath Israel lost two beloved members of the Agudah family this week, Mrs. Debby Sherer and Rabbi Nisson Wolpin. While I only met Rabbi Wolpin z”l a few times, he left behind a written legacy of nearly 400 issues of the Jewish Observer. Thanks to the volunteer work of Rabbi Yossi Aszknazy nearly the entire JO archive is available online here.
Partial legislative recap:
Indiana: The Indiana General Assembly adjourned for the year, but not before passing bills which included several measures that were top priorities for the nonpublic school community.
Since 2013, Indiana has funded the Secured School Safety Grant program for public and charter schools. The new budget earmarked $500,000 each year to allow accredited nonpublic schools to apply for the grant. It was heartening to see that the safety and security of private school students is no less important than that of other Hoosier students. Thank you to Rabbi Yisroel Gettinger of Congregation B’nai Torah and John Elcesser of the Indiana Non Public Education Association (on whose board I serve) for advocating for this important new opportunity. This change would not have happened without their persistence.
Other changes included in the budget related to the popular scholarship tax credit program and voucher program, both of which provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to students choosing Jewish day schools. Among other changes, the tax credit cap was increased for each of the next two years and the House beat back a proposal which would have artificially capped the voucher program and made it a separate line item. In a separate pre-k bill, preschool scholarship students were made eligible for a voucher if they attend kindergarten at the same school. Thank you to Speaker Brian Bosma and education chairman Rep. Bob Behning for their strong leadership on many of these issues. While there were several other issues that didn’t make the final cut, overall, we are very grateful for the many items that were successfully resolved.
Missouri: After many years of trying to pass some form of private school choice, the Missouri Senate finally passed a bill this week, SB313 which would provide $25 million for eligible students to use on their education including private school tuition. The Education Savings Account will be funded by tax credits and will be limited to foster children, military families and students with disabilities. While it isn’t as broad as the original bill proposed by Senator Emery, it is a good start.
Tennessee: Unfortunately, Memphis families looking forward to a proposed voucher program had their hopes dashed yet again. Despite the sponsorship this year of the House Education chairman and strong support in the Senate, the bill was pushed off until at least 2018.
Texas: In a hearing that went past midnight, the Texas Public Education Committee discussed a special education education savings account bill, HB 1335. The committee listened to hours of testimony, but deferred action on the bill.
New York: click here
Illinois: click here