Riverdale — SAR Academy’s 46th Anniversary Dinner, held recently at SAR High School was filled with warmth and tremendous school pride. Emotions ran high as each honoree took center stage while videos highlighted his or her achievements, and Rabbi Binyamin Krauss (‘84), principal, and Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, principal, SAR High School, addressed the audience with words of praise and gratitude for their accomplishments. The dinner boasted an unprecedented number of attendees and raised $3.7mil. This was no coincidence — this year, in addition to honoring two SAR faculty members and an SAR parent, the school chose to honor SAR’s 20 alumni who served in the IDF this past summer during Operation Protective Edge.
Earlier this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo presented his annual State of the State address and his 2015 Executive Budget proposal. For the first time ever, the governor included the Education Investment Tax Credit (EITC) in his Executive Budget, allocating $100 million for the EITC fund and capping the individual income level for recipients at $250,000. If EITC is enacted, it could provide millions of dollars in scholarships to the Jewish community’s middle-income families.
Governor Cuomo’s announcement came on the heels of the State Senate’s passage of EITC as a stand-alone bill. The Senate has consistently passed EITC each session for the last few years, but the legislation has gained little traction. “By including EITC in his Executive Budget, Gov. Cuomo sends a strong signal that he wants the bill to pass,” said Jake Adler, New York Policy Director for OU Advocacy-Teach NYS. “With the passage of EITC by the Senate and inclusion in the Governor’s budget proposal, EITC is even closer to passing than ever before.”
Maury Litwack, OU Advocacy’s Director of State Political Affairs, said, “Together with the support of the community, we are confident we can create the support necessary to achieve transformative legislative change in Albany. This change is possible, and comes in the form of the Education Improvement Tax Credit from which our day school partners in Pennsylvania and Florida have already benefited greatly.”
The 2015 Executive Budget proposal also included more than $102 million for New York’s Mandated Services Reimbursement program and more than $47 million for the Comprehensive Attendance Policy funding, which represents a $4 million increase to MSR and a $2 million increase to CAP. In addition, more than$16 million was included for repayment of previous CAP arrears, which is unchanged from the 2014 budget. This is the second year that a down payment was included for CAP arrears. Finally, Gov. Cuomo once again included $4.5 million for security funding for non-public schools. While the SAFE Act was originally meant to be for one year only, OU Advocacy-Teach NYS successfully advocated for this important funding to be renewed two years in a row.
The EITC, increases to CAP and MSR, and the CAP repayment funding have been keystones of the Jewish day school community’s advocacy agenda for the last few years. Together with the school security funding and other items that benefit the non-public school community, their passage could result in millions of dollars for New York’s Jewish day schools.
“While we are pleased these items are in Gov. Cuomo’s proposed budget, we must continue to advocate for them between now and when the state budget closes at the end of March,” said Adler. Last year, OU Advocacy-Teach NYS coordinated 17 meetings at schools with legislators, organized three advocacy missions to Albany, and successfully encouraged community members throughout the state to write more than 3,000 letters to lawmakers.
This year, to support its legislative agenda in Albany, OU Advocacy-Teach NYS has planned two regional missions to the Statehouse—the first from Manhattan, the Bronx and Westchester, and the second from Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island—for community members to meet with state legislators and demonstrate their support of education affordability, particularly the EITC. In addition, OU Advocacy-Teach NYS is organizing a joint mission to Albany with Yachad, the flagship program of the OU’s National Jewish Council for Disabilities. And in conjunction with the Yeshivah of Flatbush and Nazareth Regional High School, a Catholic school, OU Advocacy is working with high school students to teach them about the value of political advocacy. After an advocacy training day with students from each high school, the entire group of students will head to Albany to advocate for the EITC bill.
In New York City, OU Advocacy-Teach NYS has just launched a campaign to increase access for Jewish day schools to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-kindergarten program.
Since the inception of the Mayor’s expanded Universal Pre-K (UPK) program in January 2014, OU Advocacy-Teach NYS has been advocating for full inclusion for all Jewish day school students. Unfortunately, 89 percent of pre-school aged students within the Jewish day school community are not able to participate in a full-day UPK program. This is due to the difficulty Jewish day schools encounter in order to adequately accommodate the 6 hours and 20 minutes of uninterrupted secular instruction required by the City program while still maintaining appropriate levels of privately-funded religious instruction.
“Together with our coalition of New York City Jewish day schools, we have asked the Mayor repeatedly to make the requirements of the full-day UPK program more flexible and to expand the slots available for the half-day UPK program, in order for the Mayor to realize his vision of universal pre-K education for every child in New York City. Unfortunately, Mayor de Blasio has responded to our requests with no clear plan or timetable for including Jewish day school students,” Litwack added.
OU Advocacy-Teach NYS is encouraging all New Yorkers to contact Mayor de Blasio today and urge him to accommodate the needs of the Jewish day school community by making the restrictive hour requirements more flexible and adding enough slots to the program for Jewish day school students.