Robert Rifkind's well-meaning letter (June 26) reflects many of the misinformed arguments used by teachers unions to protect their self-interest.
In opposing the NYS Education Tax-Credit bill, Rifkind states that the “wealthiest Jewish community in all history” should pay for its children to be educated. From where does he believe that these funds will come? Jewish schools in the NYC area alone cost over $2 billion annually to run. For perspective, consider that UJA-Federation of New York, the nation’s largest Jewish philanthropy, raises and distributes an impressive $150-to-$200 million annually to hundreds of worthy causes. Even if UJA distributed all these funds to Jewish education, it would amount to a drop in the bucket.
Also, the church-state issue is a red herring. No one has ever proposed that taxpayers pay for the costs of religious training, and similar tax-credit programs have passed in 14 other states. In addition, helping to keep parochial schools afloat is good economics. If these kids moved from parochial to public schools, they would crush the public school system, adding over $8 billion to the budget.
Rifkind raises three specific objections:
First, “9 percent of the population of New York State is Jewish”, so “the lion’s share of the proposed financial aid will go to non-Jewish families.” In fact, though, there are nearly 200,000 NY kids in Jewish schools, about half of all kids statewide in parochial schools.
Second, the bill would “provide support for students going to secular private schools.” He fails to note that the bill targeted money to only low and middle-income families.
Third, “[p] public funding will inevitably require our religious leaders to become more deeply engaged in partisan politics”: What is wrong with that? The American Jewish Committee (of which Rifkind is chairman) and numerous other Jewish advocacy organizations regularly work with rabbis to advocate on public policy.
The organized Jewish community has more work to do in educating and activating our community on this critical issue.
The author is a board member of the Jewish Education Project.