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entries tagged with: Beigelman


Orthodox world pushes tax credits for day-school donations

Josh LipowskyLocal
Published: 11 September 2009

As families struggle to meet their day-school tuition obligations, the Orthodox community is turning to the government for help in the form of state tax credits for donations to scholarship funds.

About 150 community members came to Teaneck’s Bnai Yeshurun last Tuesday as legislative policy experts representing two Orthodox advocacy groups discussed political solutions to the day-school crisis.

“Public funding of education can have unbelievable possibilities,” said Rabbi Kenny Schiowitz as he introduced the forum. “We may be a few decades late, but we’re not too late.”

No silver bullet exists, said Howard Beigelman, director of the Orthodox Union's Institute for Public Affairs. Beigelman and Joshua Pruzansky, director of Agudath Israel of New Jersey heralded corporate tax credits as a possible form of relief.

The Orthodox Union’s Howard Beigelman, right, and Agudath Israel’s Joshua Pruzansky praised corporate tax credits for day school donations at a meeting in Teaneck last week.

School vouchers, a failed goal of President George W. Bush’s administration, are no longer under consideration, Beigelman said. The idea has long been mired in controversy, particularly for potential violations of the separation between state and religion. Tax credits, however, are “100 percent constitutionally kosher,” Beigelman said.

Under a corporate tax credit program, he explained, a company would make a donation to a central non-profit fund and receive a tax credit. The fund would then distribute the money to families that meet its requirements. Donors could earmark the funds for students in specific schools. Since the money would not go to the school directly, there is no conflict between religion and state.

According to the Agudath Israel, 27,155 students attend 114 Orthodox day schools in New Jersey, an increase of 37 percent since the 2003-04 school year, when the organization last took a census of students.

This year, the state is expected to allocate $24,080,000 to New Jersey’s private schools, with $3,780,000 going to day schools.

The New Jersey legislature has been discussing the creation of a corporate tax credit program since last year. Senate bill 1607, also known as the Urban Enterprise Zone Jobs Scholarship Act, would create a pilot program in the Department of the Treasury, which would provide tax credits for contributions to scholarship programs for public and private schools. If approved, the act would set up pilot programs in Lakewood, Paterson, Elizabeth, Newark, Orange, and Trenton.

Funds from the program would be available to children from homes with income that does not exceed 2.5 times the federal poverty level, a requirement that many Orthodox families could meet, given their typically large sizes and tuition bills, Beigelman said.

In the 11 states where similar programs exist, legislative support has been high on both sides of the aisle, and day schools have reaped the benefits of millions of dollars, Beigelman added.

In 2007, Bank of America made a $200,000 donation to two day schools in Rhode Island through the Rhode Island Scholarship Tax Credit program. Last year, two day schools in the Providence area with a total enrollment of 63 students raised about $10,000 per student through the program, Beigelman said. A similar program in Pittsburgh has raised more than $8 million since 2001.

Pruzansky lamented a lack of political will to move the bill forward in New Jersey.

“The leadership doesn’t have the courage to post the bill,” he said of 1607. He cast blame on the New Jersey Education Association, which he accused of swaying politicians with hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions.

Pruzansky implored attendees to begin meeting with their representatives to push through the bill.

“If we go out there, there might be a chance,” he said.

Many states allow for both corporate and personal tax credits, but New Jersey currently does not allow for individual tax credits for any charitable donations. Sens. Thomas Kean Jr. and Richard Codey introduced a bill in the Senate last year to change that, but it has yet to move out of committee. The OU is focusing its energies on creating a corporate option in the Garden State, Beigelman told The Jewish Standard after the forum, although the organization also supports Kean and Codey’s bill.

Beigelman hopes to see the Urban Enterprise Zone Jobs Scholarship Act pass this year, to be implemented in the 2010-11 school year. “If they see it’s important to their constituency, they will do this,” Beigelman said.


State steps into day-school debate

Parents continuing to struggle with rising day-school tuition may soon get some help from the state.

Passaic Assemblyman Gary Schaer has been named co-chair of the Non-Public Education Funding Commission, created by Gov. Corzine late last month to investigate how New Jersey can aid private schools without crossing the line separating church and state.

“The work of this commission will be critically important in improving educational opportunities for our students and ensuring a bright future for all children throughout this state,” Corzine said Dec. 22 as he signed the executive order creating the group.

New Jersey has 1,200 non-public schools, educating more than 170,000 students, according to Josh Pruzansky, director of Agudath Israel of New Jersey, an Orthodox advocacy organization, and chair of the State of New Jersey Non-Public School Advisory Committee. Of those students, approximately 80 percent attend religious schools.

George Corwell, New Jersey Catholic Conference’s director of education, will co-chair the commission with Schaer (D-36). The 23-member body will also include the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education, the state treasurer, and the N.J. attorney general, who will monitor church-state issues.

Responsibilities include reviewing ways to help non-public schools maximize grant funding; exploring how to create incentives for charitable giving to non-public schools; investigating how to better the non-public school learning experience through equipment such as textbooks, technology, and furniture; and finding ways to most effectively use state and federal funds within the boundaries of church and state separation. Corzine gave the commission a June 1 deadline to make its recommendations.

“The commission is important in identifying the areas of funding they feel would be of help,” Pruzansky told The Jewish Standard. “The bottom line is, once they do find those issues, what will the legislature or governor do?”

Currently, the state provides $137 in annual aid per student to private-school students — $72 for nursing aid and $65 for textbooks. Schaer, an Orthodox Jew himself, said the commission could potentially come up with $1,500 to $2,000 per student. Specifically, the state could provide additional aid for busing, nursing, textbooks, and technology.

“That would be a great assist to the children and their families,” he said.

Non-public schools have largely been ignored by the state, according to Pruzansky, but their students represent a significant savings to New Jersey taxpayers. If all of New Jersey’s private-school students switched to public schools, it would cost taxpayers an additional $2.75 billion, he said.

“The fact that these schools exist is saving taxpayers close to $3 billion a year,” he said.

Families that do not use the public-school system still pay for it through property taxes. According to the non-profit Tax Foundation, New Jersey has among the highest property taxes in the country. Day-school parents may also pay tuition bills ranging from $6,000 to $55,000 per student, depending on the school.

“We’ve all been living with this issue for as long as we can,” Schaer said. “This is not simply a Jewish issue, not simply a Catholic issue. It’s an issue about our children — about the state we want to live in.”

The Orthodox Union, an umbrella group that has been searching for solutions to the day-school crisis for the past year, welcomed Corzine’s proclamation.

“I hope the recommendations will be [those] we can implement relatively quickly and easily,” said Howie Beigelman, the OU’s deputy director of public policy.

The OU and Agudath Israel recently put their weight behind a proposal to allow corporate tax credits for donations to private schools. Both organizations had also supported the idea of school vouchers, but Beigelman noted that Corzine did not support the proposal because he was wary of the constitutional issues involved.

“It’s an honest view,” Beigelman said. “This commission’s going to be able to look at that, what the state can do, what other states are doing, and where the state can go in the future.”

Beigelman said Gov.-elect Chris Christie is a proponent of school choice and may further press the legislature on funding.

Rabbi Saul Zucker, a Teaneck resident who is the OU’s director of day school services, called the commission “a wonderful thing.”

“A solution to the overall crisis is not going to lie exclusively in the government,” he said. “It requires a really multi-faceted approach. The model of a kehillah fund is a wonderful component. How we can utilize government programs is another wonderful component. Different avenues of fund-raising are another wonderful component. You have to bring all these things to bear.”

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