Albany Mission: Increase funding for private schools

Five Towns students head upstate to learn advocacy and politicking


Some Five Towns private schools are traveling upstate to the New York State capital on March 12 as part of what Teach NYS calls the Mission to Albany, an annual pilgrimage to lobby state legislators for more money, especially increased STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) funding as well as school security.

Teach NYS is part of the Orthodox Union, an organization that encompasses a broad spectrum of educational, community development, religious, social action and youth activities, programs and services. Teach NYS is part of the OU’s Teach Coalition, founded in 2013 to advocate for what organization officials call nonpublic schools.

Mission to Albany is a full day of speaking with members of the State Assembly and Senate and pressing the primary point that private schools, especially Jewish Day Schools and yeshivas are just as focused on secular education as they are on religious instruction.

“We acknowledge that there are school that don’t value secular education,” said Annie Watman, the grassroots coordinator for Teach NYS. “We want to provide the best possible resources for our students to achieve.”

The State Education Department set new regulations in November that require all state private schools to offer a total of 36 hours of instruction per week in English, match, science and social studies. Failure to do so could result in the loss of state funding for textbooks, transportation and other items. There have been issues with a few institution — especially in New York City — providing little or no instruction in secular subjects.

Watman said that the goal for this year’s mission is to push for full reimbursement of qualified STEM teachers’ salaries at the level of the local public-school districts where the private schools are located, $90 million. The advocacy has pushed funding from $5 million to $15 million in the current state budget. She said that last year’s mission included 600 students, a 200 percent increase across the state from the previous year.

The Brandeis School in Lawrence will be represented in Albany. Led by Executive Director Reuben Maron, the group will include parents, staff and its seventh-grade students. Maron said that he wants the students to see what he called the “magnificent structure” of the state capitol building, to watch in person what the stat legislators do and to learn about the political process in an effort to ignite their interest.

“We will discuss the experience on the bus en route to Albany and engage in follow up conversation with our students to gauge which aspects were interesting to them throughout the day,” he said.

Rabbi Zev Friedman the dean of Rambam Mesivta High school, also in Lawrence, said that roughly 15 students accompanied by a faculty member will be going to Albany. Friedman noted that in general citizens have a responsibility to take part in government and the students should learn how to advocate for the larger community and as Rambam educators “walk them through the political process” the students will be taught that they a have a voice by voting.

“Funding for a parochial school education is a very important priority for those families that opt to send their sons and daughters to private schools,” he said. “All residents of the state pay a significant amount of state taxes. The state in turn uses these funds for the betterment of society.”

Midreshet Shalhevet High School has nine students going with history teacher Simcha Bader. “We believe students who participate in these events become more knowledgeable citizens, and more knowledgeable voters,” he said, adding that, “It also creates an identity of activism that we hope they take with to college and beyond.”

Shulamith Schiol for Girls in Cedarhurst is sending 20 eighth-graders, along with two faculty members, to help advocate for the increased funding. 

"Our goal is that the students learn about the political process and mature into active, concerned citizens of a democracy," said Middle Division Principal Rookie Billet. "Another goal is to teach the importance of gratitude in life in general, and certainly to politcal officials who help our community."

Edited to reflect the addition of the Shulamith School for Girls for the online version.