State Legislature doubles security funds to non-public schools

State Legislature doubles security funds to non-public schools

Per pupil spending $55 less than public school students

Fear of measles prevented the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy middle school debate team from participating in a tournament with four Orthodox day schools.
Fear of measles prevented the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy middle school debate team from participating in a tournament with four Orthodox day schools.

Legislation that will double the amount of security funding to $22.6 million for non-public school students is expected to be signed by Gov. Phil Murphy after he returns from a family trip to Africa on Jan. 2, Matthew Saidel, the governor’s deputy press secretary, confirmed to NJJN.

The legislation, which unanimously passed the Assembly and Senate on Dec. 17, will be a boon to local Jewish day schools, which have been saddled in recent years by rising security costs, and have received significantly less state funds to protect students than public school students.

“This is phenomenal,” said Steve Karp, executive director of the Orthodox Jewish Educational Center (JEC) in Elizabeth. “This isn’t a matter of religion, but a matter of safety and security for our children.”

The $75 appropriation in the state budget per student in non-public schools will be doubled to $150 in 2019. Security funds for public schools was increased by 38 percent to $205 per pupil, from $148.

Josh Caplan, executive director of Teach NJ — part of the Teach Coalition, a division of the Orthodox Union — said the additional funding will enable schools to expand security guard hours, install more safety equipment, or provide special training to educators. For schools that charge a security fee to parents, the increased state funds could stem a rise in that assessment. Teach NJ is credited with state lobbying efforts to get the legislation passed.

“This will certainly also help expedite some projects already underway,” Caplan said. “A planned two-year project may now only take a year. It will help speed up the timetable of projects they’re already working on.” Teach NJ includes Jewish day schools of different denominations as well as partner schools in the Christian and Muslim communities. There are approximately 1,000 non-public schools in New Jersey.

Day schools surveyed by NJJN already have extensive security measures in place, but they declined to reveal specifics.

Daniel Israeli, chief financial and operating officer for the Orthodox Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, said the 750-student schools should receive $56,000 in additional funding from the legislation.

“After consulting with the Livingston Police and our own internal security team, we will be allocating the money for assets hardening and enhancing personnel, making it more difficult to get in,” he said. “It’s our intention to spend as much or more money on security than we ever have, although it’s not like we don’t have great security already in place. We have worked in conjunction with the Livingston police for many years.”            

The non-denominational Hebrew Academy in Marlboro has received three federal Homeland Security grants totaling $250,000 in the last six years, according to Yoti Golan, head of school.

“We have never scrimped on the safety of children,” said Golan. “We’ve always been at the forefront of security. But this will help our bottom line.”

Although unable to estimate how much the school of 200 students would receive, she said the monies will be used to “enhance what we already have in place.”

The school has an armed security guard and Golan said the added money might be used to extend his hours to cover other Jewish community events held at the school.   

“We do not live in a bubble,” she said. “We see what goes on and there can be no compromise on security.”          

A student at the Hebrew Academy in Marlboro calls a local legislator to advocate for passage of the new legislation granting non-public schools additional security funding. Photo courtesy the Hebrew Academy

Karp of JEC said with its 800 students, the school should receive $58,000, although “our security costs far exceed that.” The school has armed guards and regular security on both of its campuses — one houses the lower school and the boys’ middle and high school, and the other the girls’ middle school and Bruriah High School for girls.

“Our day doesn’t stop at 3:30, 4:30, or 5,” said Karp. “We [also] have mishmar [learning groups] or sports. Those are students on campus and they need to have a secure place to gather.”

The JEC received its last Homeland Security grant “of any significant funding” in 2008; the school charges a $500 security fee per family every academic year. The fee will probably be raised in the future because “the needs are so great,” according to Karp.

He said the state money will be used for large, capital projects. “There is always more to be done,” he said.

Rivky Ross, head of school at Orthodox Yeshivat Netivot Montessori in East Brunswick, said security costs were hard to calculate for the school’s 170 students because it is located in a wing of the East Brunswick Jewish Center and partners with the synagogue on security. Despite that, she said, security costs to the school are “substantial.”

“In the last couple of years, we’ve had to rethink our resources and allocate more to security,” said Ross. “Having the governor sign this bill really will be a significant addition to our resources. We can now allocate these funds to educational programs.”

She praised the state for its recognition of non-public school needs.

“When they allocate more to our children it makes us feel like every child matters,” she said. “We understand as day school educators we have to find our own resources, but security is different. It’s good to know our state shares our concern about our children.”

Security funding for public school students continues to exceed the allocation amount for non-public school students.

“We don’t think the fight is over until we get the same amount as public school children,” Golan told NJJN. “There should be no difference. What is the difference between the life of my child and the life of a child of public-school parents? We pay the same taxes. Why don’t we get the same benefit?”

Teach NJ agrees. “Our long-term goal is to gain parity with the public schools,” said Caplan.

The legislation for the current school year passed the Assembly 78-0 and Senate 38-0. The legislation’s primary sponsors in the Senate were Steven Oroho (R-Dist. 24), Vin Gopal (D-Dist. 11), Joseph Lagana (D-Dist. 38), and Paul Sarlo (D-Dist. 36). Assembly sponsors were Gary Schaer (D-Dist. 36), Lisa Swain (D-Dist. 38), Christopher Tully (D-Dist. 38), and Benjie Wimberly (D-Dist. 35).

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