Mission to Albany: A Battle to Protect and Preserve Aid to Yeshivos


albany-tuition-agudah A delegation of some 20 prominent yeshiva representatives and advocates organized and led by Agudath Israel of America spent this past Tuesday, May 11, in Albany, meeting with high-ranking government officials in an effort to forestall proposed budget cuts that could have a disastrous impact on the yeshiva community across New York State. Assemblyman Dov Hikind played a large role in assisting Agudah leaders in organizing the day’s important meetings.

Earlier this year, New York Governor David Paterson’s proposed budget included an allocation of $30 million to reimburse nonpublic schools for their expenses in complying with the state’s Comprehensive Attendance Program (CAP). A few weeks ago, though, with the state’s budgetary woes more pronounced than ever, Governor Paterson amended his budget proposal, cutting the CAP allocation by fifty percent to $15 million. As yeshivos in New York receive more than a quarter of the state’s total CAP allocation, the proposed $15 million cut would have translated into a loss of approximately $4 million for yeshivos across the state.

“The new proposed cuts in the CAP program are simply unacceptable,” said Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, Agudath Israel’s vice president for community affairs.” They are devastating in their own right. What’s worse, it seems as if the nonpublic schools are being singled out for this type of cutback. There is nothing similar being proposed with regard to public school funding.”

For this reason, the Agudath Israel leader organized a major delegation of yeshiva principals and askonim, covering the length and breadth of the New York State yeshiva population, to make a personal pitch to lawmakers in Albany to restore the proposed CAP cuts.

The group started the day with Assemblyman Dov Hikind in whose office the participants gathered and met with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, as well as Assembly members: Peter Abbate, Jim Brennan, Richard Brodsky, William Colton, Steven Cymbrowitz, Rhoda Jacobs, Charles Lavine, Alan Maisel, Audrey Pheffer, Helene Weinstein , David Weprin and Mrs. Judy Rapfogel Chief of Staff to Speaker Silver.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind gave an impassioned appeal to the Speaker and his colleagues to restore the CAP and thanked the speaker for all of his help on various issues effecting the community.

Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger, Chairman of the Board of Agudath Israel, asked the Assembly leaders for fairness and equality in reference to the CAP and other pending legislative issues and explained the pain and difficulties yeshivah administrators and parents are experiencing.

Speaker Silver and the assembled leaders spoke of their commitment to provide the necessary pressure to keep yeshiva funding as robust as the budget allows. Rabbi Mordechai Biser, legal counsel for Agudath Israel, and Mrs. Deborah Zachai, Agudath Israel’s director of education affairs, raised other issues of concern to our community. Assembly member Helene Weinstein then presented the transportation bill she is co-sponsoring with Assemblyman Dov Hikind to reimburse parents whose children are dismissed after 5pm.

From Mr. Hikind’s office, the delegation proceeded to the Senate side of the Capitol, where its members met with Democrats Carl Kruger, Eric Schneiderman, Diane Savino, as well as Senators Eric Adams, Ruth Hassell- Thompson, Craig Johnson, Daniel Squadron, Toby Stavisky and Antoine Thompson, and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith.

Leon Goldenberg, a well-known community activist, spoke of the difficulties yeshiva administrators are having in paying their teachers and meeting their financial obligations. He was followed by Mrs. Rivka Abrams, representing Yeshiva Darchei Torah, who expressed her disappointment that once again yeshiva funding is being cut.

The meeting yielded pledges by the legislators that they would do all in their power to restore the monies that had been cut from the CAP budgetary allocation. Senator Kruger expressed his strong support to the delegation, and was followed by Diane Savino, Eric Adams and Eric Schneiderman. The delegation thanked Senator Schneiderman and his staff for organizing the meeting with the Senators.

A day earlier, a smaller Agudath Israel delegation met with Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, Assemblyman Dov Hikind and Sampson’s chief staff, Michael Cohen, at Senator Sampson’s request. The senator, in advance of the following day’s mission, wanted to convey his personal commitment to protect against the proposed cuts and restore the full funding of CAP.

The delegates then went to the other side of the aisle where they consulted with Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos and Brooklyn Senator Martin Golden. At that meeting Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky of Yeshiva South Shore and a long time friend of Senator Skelos requested that the Republican conference hold strong and resist any cuts to the CAP.

The delegates then met with Governor David Paterson and his senior staff, and discussed the issue directly with him. Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a long time friend of the Governor, opened the meeting, requesting that the Governor reconsider his drastic planned cut. Agudah askan Chaskel Bennett, speaking as a parent, passionately addressed the “difficulties parents were having in meeting their tuition obligations” and implored the Governor to “consider the great hardships parents are going through.”

While the Governor -who is known as a friend of the nonpublic school community – did not commit to rescinding the proposed CAP budget cuts, he said he would revisit the issue and hoped that he would find a way to maintain the higher funding level he had initially proposed.

“It was essential that we traveled to Albany to deliver our message personally,” said Rabbi Lefkowitz. “It’s a lot harder for our elected officials to ignore our legitimate claim when we present it to them face-to-face.
“What was particularly impressive about the delegation was its breadth. This was not just one yeshiva making a pitch; it was representative of the entire yeshiva community.” Rabbi Lefkowitz then thanked Assemblyman Dov Hikind and his chief of staff Marc Kronenberg for helping organizing the mission.

The yeshivos represented in the delegation included: Bais Yaakov of Pomona, Bais Yaakov of Queens, Belz, Bobover Yeshiva Bnei Zion, Yeshiva Darchei Torah, Manhattan Beach Day School, Masores Bais Yaakov, Satmar Monroe, Skver, UTA Monroe, Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, Yeshiva Gedolah of Peekskill, Yeshiva South Shore and Yeshiva Torah Vodaath.

{Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}