Ensuring Jewish continuity by providing, among other things, good Jewish education is a critical responsibility of the Jewish community. It is a responsibility that the wealthiest Jewish community in all history should be able to manage if it wants to. But is it a responsibility of the taxpayers of the State of New York? Your Editorial of June 12, “Help For Parents With Day School Tuition,” assumes that it is and therefore enthusiastically supports a bill now before the state legislature that would provide millions of dollars in tax credits for families sending their children to parochial schools.
The Editorial does not address a number of questions that should be asked about the wisdom of the proposed legislation. Here are a few:
(1) The aid to be provided Jewish families will necessarily be provided to Christian, Muslim, and other families as well. Jews are a small minority — barely 9 percent of the population of New York State. Thus the lion’s share of the proposed financial aid will go to non-Jewish families. Do we really want to be paying taxes to support Christian parochial schools and Muslim madrasas?
(2) The proposed legislation will provide support for students going to secular private schools. Is it a wise use of public funds to support students going to elite schools that can and do spend on each pupil more that twice what New York City public schools spend? Would it not be better policy to help the public schools compete on more equal terms with these expensive private schools?
(3) Reliance by religious schools on public funding will inevitably require our religious leaders to become more deeply engaged in partisan politics than they already are. The funding provided will need to be sustained or increased from year to year. It will be necessary actively to support political candidates who will promise the most. Will we not then find an unholy alliance between our spiritual leaders and their chosen political candidates?
American Jews have been greatly blessed by the separation of church and state in this country. We should be careful not to encourage the erosion of that principle.
The writer is a member of the board of directors of The Jewish Week.