Camps & education | OU boosts effort to bring more public funds into Jewish schools

The Orthodox Union is launching a multimillion-dollar advocacy campaign to increase government funding for Jewish day schools in New York.

The organization will be adding staff to the 10 full-timers already working on the issue and launching a multiyear campaign, according to OU executive vice president Allen Fagin.

Allen Fagin

He also said the OU will retain “one of the leading political strategists in New York” to guide the effort.

“We all recognize that the real solution to the tuition crisis lies in using our political power and our advocacy efforts to increase state and local government funding for yeshivot and day schools,” Fagin said in a speech Dec. 27 at the OU’s biannual convention, which drew a crowd of about 350 to a hotel in Tarrytown, New York.

He called the OU’s planned campaign “the most ambitious advocacy program ever undertaken” by the organization.

While U.S. courts generally forbid government funding for religious education, Jewish schools access hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding per year, ranging from reimbursement for the cost of mandatory attendance-taking to funding for technology and special-needs education.

In November, New York state voters passed a school bond act that may provide up to $38 million in reimbursements to Jewish day schools and yeshivas for educational technology equipment and facilities, construction and renovation of pre-kindergarten facilities, and installation of high-tech security features in school buildings. The OU was among several Jewish groups — mostly Orthodox, but including UJA-Federation of New York — that lobbied in favor of the bill.

New York state has about 151,000 Jewish day school and yeshiva students — about 60 percent of the nation’s total, according to an Avi Chai study published last October. Tuition fees at some day schools run in excess of $30,000 per year.

“Their tuition bill is a burden on families and communities that has reached the breaking point,” Fagin said.

“Our goal is to transform the tuition landscape: to generate sufficient government funding for yeshivot and day schools to lower tuition costs in a meaningful way,” he said. “It will require us to stop being timid. We pay our taxes, and our kids are also entitled not to be left behind.”