Launching an initiative “for the next frontier of equality,” the Orthodox Union led a “mini-mission” to Trenton to push for measures that would help reduce the cost of a private parochial education.
A group of eight Middlesex County residents joined with OU Advocacy-NJ in meetings with local legislators and state officials.
They asked support of various measures promoting “parity” between public and nonpublic schools, including district funding for programs and services for special-needs students in religious schools, educational tax credits, and increasing state aid for such non-religious items as nursing, technology, and textbooks.
OU regional advocacy director Josh Pruzansky told NJJN that while the state allots $20,065 per public school pupil annually, it earmarks only $580.24 for those in nonpublic schools, the vast majority for special-education services.
“When you take out the special education, nonpublic schools receive about $100 per child for technology, textbooks, and nursing,” said Pruzansky, who lives in Highland Park. “We don’t want to take anything away from the public schools. Those kids need it and they deserve it. We support strong public schools. But when it comes to security services, safety, and health services, every child should be treated the same.”
He said a bill that passed the Assembly two weeks earlier, providing security services such as external lighting and panic button alarms, excluded nonpublic schools.
“We pay the same taxes,” said Pruzansky. “Are the lives of nonpublic-school students any less precious than those of public-school students?”
The group on the March 27 trip included representatives from local day schools, synagogues, and community organizations in Edison, Highland Park, and East Brunswick.
They met with the three District 18 Democrats — State Sen. Peter Barnes III, Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, and Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin — and with Sen. Bob Smith (D-Dist. 17). Meetings were also held with Gregory Kocher and Jessani Gordon of the state Department of Education’s office of nonpublic school services, and George Corwell, director of the office of education for the New Jersey Catholic Conference.
The OU also supports legislation allowing special-education students who can’t receive the education services they require in their own districts to be allowed to go to any accredited school. Currently, such students may not be sent to nonpublic schools.
A new bill introduced in the Assembly by Pinkin, Diegnan (who chairs the Education Committee), and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Dist. 37), would allow such students to be sent to religious day schools. A companion bill, whose prime sponsor is Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37), is expected to be introduced shortly in the Senate.
Rena Klein of Edison said she went to Trenton for a very personal reason: Her seven-year-old daughter, a student at Yeshiva Shaare Tzion in Piscataway, has diabetes. However, the school is able to afford only a part-time nurse, which, Klein said, places her daughter’s health at risk.
“Public schools get a lot of money, and if we could get the same amount we could adequately provide for the health and safety of our children,” she said. “Really, it’s only being fair that we should get the same services for our taxes.”
A novice at lobbying, Klein said she found the experience both interesting and a positive introduction to gaining the ear of her elected representatives. “Everyone I met was supportive and interested in what we had to say on these very important issues,” she said.
Rabbi Jay Weinstein of Young Israel of East Brunswick said he has previously found his District 18 representatives knowledgeable and responsive to issues important to the Jewish community.
“We appreciate they are always available to help us,” he said. “We also appreciate the leadership of the OU in galvanizing our community to be especially active.”