Partnering to Access Government Funding
Ask any day school what they need most, and most will tell you money. With more money, schools could have high-quality programming in a wide array of subjects, hire top-notch leaders and teachers, build optimal learning spaces and, last but not least, offer lower tuition. Lower tuition would help increase enrollment, allowing for more families to benefit from Jewish day school, and reduce the burden on those already making the choice to send their children to day school.
It was precisely for this reason—to increase affordability and accessibility—that efforts to carve out nonpublic school funding from state budgets began in 2013. With a deep network of grassroots activists, community leaders and lawmakers across the country, the Teach Advocacy Network is now the leading single-issue advocacy organization invested in the quality, safety and accessibility of nonpublic schools.
The Teach Advocacy Network has become a serious player in the American Jewish day school world, with offices in states that include New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida and California. The strategy is simple: In each state, Teach builds a strong and dedicated team of lay leaders who are committed to promoting government funding of nonpublic schools. Recognizing that each state legislature is influenced by its own local politics and culture, Teach connects leaders and activists in each state with top lobbyists and strategists to draft legislation specific to their needs and circumstances. Lay leaders cultivate relationships with public officials, bring legislators to Jewish schools to visit with administrators and students, and create coalitions with local Jewish day schools, federations and other allied stakeholders to fight for equity through greater government funding for nonpublic schools.
The AVI CHAI Foundation recently credited Teach for leading the charge for increased public funding in key states by creating coalitions of day schools from across the religious spectrum. More importantly, AVI CHAI stresses that all of these programs “are consistent with Supreme Court precedent. They have not come at the expense of public schools.” In some states, significant new funding for scholarships has been awarded to nonpublic schools.
Funding opportunities exist that have the potential to provide anywhere from tens of thousands to tens of millions of dollars for Jewish day schools. Included among these opportunities are educational tax credit programs, funding for security improvements, technology upgrades, transportation, universal pre-K, reimbursement for state-mandated services and nursing aid. This funding has the potential for significant impact on a school’s bottom line.
Here are examples of the programs that Teach has been working on in various states.
The first priority for any government or community is to keep its citizens safe.
In 2013, Teach NYS played a leading role in advocating for the state legislature to include $4.5 million in security funds in the SAFE Act. In 2016, Teach NYS galvanized record-breaking support to increase this amount to $15 million, the level at which it has remained for two years.
For the past two years, Teach Florida played a pivotal role in championing security funding through the legislative process in Florida. The governor and Florida legislature approved funding of $2 million to harden security in at-risk nonpublic schools, including Jewish schools, as part of the state’s 2018-19 budget.
In Pennsylvania, Teach PA spearheaded efforts to include nonpublic schools in this year’s security proposals. With the passage of the 2018-19 state budget, the Office of Safe Schools will offer a $6 million grant program for school police officers at schools, including nonpublic schools—a $2.1 million increase over last year’s allocation. Nonpublic schools may be given priority in awards of new monies, which will ensure that nonpublic school children at risk have a safe and secure education.
Teach NJS helped to create the first-ever line item for security for nonpublic schools in New Jersey by first advocating for the passage of the Safe Schools for All Children ACT in 2016, and then ensuring it was funded at increasing amounts year over year, so that currently New Jersey nonpublic schools receive $75 per student for security. Teach NJS is hopeful that because of the strong foundations that have been built between lay leaders and the legislators, in the coming years nonpublic students will receive equal amounts of funding as public school students so that all children in every school are safe.
This year, New York State’s new budget included an unprecedented $15 million for nonpublic schools in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) reimbursement program. This program, championed by Teach NYS, will increase funding for STEM instruction in nonpublic schools by $10 million—a 200 percent increase over last year’s allocation. Teach NYS made passing and expanding the STEM program the cornerstone of its agenda, and was instrumental in securing the historic reimbursement program for STEM instruction, passed in 2017. It was the first time in the nation’s history that a bill allows the same funding allocated to public schools for STEM industry instruction to go to nonpublic schools. The 2018-19 funding builds upon that success.
This type of funding is truly groundbreaking in nature, as it allows Jewish day schools to be competitive in the hiring of secular studies teachers by offsetting costs when a school hires a certified STEM teacher. This impacts not only the schools’ bottom lines, but also their ability to provide a top-notch STEM education to Jewish students, which will have a long-lasting impact on the success of students in their lives and careers. Teach is in the process of advocating for this funding in other areas across the country and is hopeful that many states will follow suit.
Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program
One of the most impactful opportunities for Jewish education has been access to educational tax credit programs. Under this program, individuals and corporations can allocate a predetermined amount of their owed state taxes to scholarship funds, which then are used as financial aid to families with students in grades K-12. These programs can provide millions of dollars in scholarships to families and can be real lifelines for Jewish day schools. If enough students enroll in nonpublic schools through the help of these tax credit programs, states can actually recoup the money lost in owed taxes by saving on the cost of educating students in the public school system.
Since launching in 2016, Teach Florida has successfully advocated for increases in tax credit scholarships. This school year alone, 2,900 Jewish students are attending day schools on $20 million of tax credit and special needs scholarships.
In Pennsylvania, the legislative leadership reaffirmed its commitment to all students by including a $25 million increase for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program (EITC) (for a total of $160 million), and they funded the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program (OSTC) at $50 million. Additionally, new parameters will allow more low- and middle-income families to participate. Currently, 40 percent of Jewish day school students in Pennsylvania qualify for and receive scholarships through EITC and OSTC.
For the first time in history, Jewish communities across the country are thinking creatively to help our schools increase financial resources with money from outside the traditional sources (donors, foundations and families). These efforts have been led by diverse, multidenominational teams, and in many states have included partnerships with Muslim and Catholic communities as well. The Teach Advocacy Network looks forward to expanding its efforts to more states and in more arenas to help the Jewish children of today who will become the Jewish leaders of tomorrow.