Askanim Mission Goes to Albany to Restore Yeshiva Funding

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askanim-small-picWith New York State’s yeshivos facing a possible loss of some $15 million in state funds, a delegation of yeshiva administrators, parents and Agudath Israel representatives traveled to Albany Tuesday, February 10 with a simple but urgent message to state officials hammering out the new state budget: “Fund CAP now.”  New York’s Comprehensive Attendance Program (CAP) requires schools to keep careful records of students’ attendance of classes and to have policies in place to deal with absences and truancy. The state is required by law to reimburse nonpublic schools for costs associated with implementation of the CAP policy – calculated by the State Education Department at some $55 million annually. Jewish schools account for nearly 27% of the total state nonpublic school population, so the Jewish share of CAP reimbursement comes to approximately $15 million.

Left to right: Mr. Avi Schron, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, Agudath Israel executive vice president Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, State Senators John Sampson and Kevin Parker, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, State Senator Carl Kruger.
Left to right: Mr. Avi Schron, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, Agudath Israel executive vice president Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, State Senators John Sampson and Kevin Parker, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, State Senator Carl Kruger.

Earlier this year, after intense advocacy by nonpublic school groups, Governor David Paterson reversed the position he had outlined in his original 2009-2010 budget proposal and agreed to maintain the debt owed by the State to nonpublic schools for their prior compliance to date with CAP and to continue the CAP mandate for the future. However, his proposed budget includes no funds for those purposes.

It was this omission that galvanized Agudath Israel to organize a high level delegation to meet with state leaders in Albany. Although the group had a number of concerns – among them the inequity of disallowing state higher education aid to students in accredited yeshivos gedolos and seminaries, the often dysfunctional nature of transportation assistance to Jewish school students and the lack of flexibility in how the state’s categorical aid programs are offered to yeshivos – the delegation’s primary focus, on this trip, was on “the $15 million elephant in the room,” as described by Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel – the proposed zeroing out of CAP reimbursement.

The delegation consisted of yeshiva principals, administrators and representatives Rabbi Zev Bald and Mrs. Rivka Abrahams (Yeshiva Darchei Torah), Rabbi Yitzchok Fleischer and Rabbi Motti Fasten (Mosdos Bobov), ,Mr. Richard Hagler (Hebrew Academy of Long Beach), Rabbi Yeruchem Shapiro (Bais Yaakov of Borough Park), Rabbi Chaim Aron Weinberg (Yeshiva Ateret Torah), Rabbi Meir Weinberger (Yeshiva Chasam Sofer); and a group of parents and other community activists, including Mr. Chaskel Bennett, Mr. Leon Goldenberg, and Mr. Avi Schron.
Representing Agudath Israel, which organized the mission, were: Rabbi Zwiebel; Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, vice president for community services; Mrs. Deborah Zachai, director of education affairs; Mr. David Tanenbaum, education affairs associate; and Mrs. Leah Steinberg, director of Project LEARN.

Left to right at head of table: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Secretary to the Governor Mr. William Cunningham, Agudath Israel executive vice president Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel.
Left to right at head of table: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Secretary to the Governor Mr. William Cunningham, Agudath Israel executive vice president Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel.

The group had two high-level meetings: the first, with the new Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, who was joined by his Senate colleagues Carl Kruger, Kevin Parker, John Sampson, Diane Savino and Daniel Squadron, as well as by Assemblyman Dov Hikind, Counsel to the Majority Leader Shelley Mayer and Assistant Counsel Pat Rubens; and the second, in the office of Governor David Paterson, with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Chief of Staff Judy Rapfogel, and the Governor’s top brass (including, among others, the Governor’s Secretary Mr. William Cunningham, Dr. Jon Cohen, and New York State Budget Director Ms. Laura Anglin and special assistant Ross Wallenstein). At each of the meetings, the delegation emphasized the particular burden being borne by the state’s nonpublic schools and the potentially crushing impact of the proposed elimination of CAP reimbursement.

 “We fully realize the tremendous challenge the state itself is confronting,” said Rabbi Lefkowitz, who organized the delegation to Albany. “But it is vital for our government leaders to recognize the particular toll that would be taken on our yeshivos by the zeroing out of the CAP allocation. We are prepared to accept our fair share of budgetary burdens, but cutting out the CAP reimbursement affects yeshivos and other nonpublic schools disproportionately. That is simply not fair.

“There is no question that having such an impressive delegation of leaders personally deliver this message to the hierarchy in Albany made a powerful impact. It is now up to the entire community to reinforce the urgency of our plea: Fund CAP now.”

{Elisha Ferber/Matzav.com Newscenter}

1 COMMENT

  1. Can someone explain why Yeshivos Gedolos are “excluded” from State financial aid but “colleges” that teach hatred of America and are NOT part of SUNY deserve any aid?!

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