May 6, 2012

On day school advocacy, follow the money.

I was intrigued to learn that my colleagues at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs are holding a panel discussion on vouchers, tax credits and other forms of government aid to non-public (i.e., private) schools. The panel is scheduled for this week's annual JCPA Plenum, where community activists from around the country gather to coordinate national and local approaches to pressing issues.

As was pointed out in the latest New York Jewish Week, this is a big deal for a national umbrella that's typically left-of-center when it comes to social policy and domestic politics. Part of JCPA's strength has been its affinity with labor unions and liberal church groups, which has come in handy over the years especially in protecting Israel from would-be boycotts. Some years back, JCPA ran afoul of some of the more monied interests in the Jewish community by opposing the Bush-era tax cuts.

Could this be a sea change? Government assistance to private schools -- even yeshivas -- is usually perceived by teachers' unions as undercutting their bottom line on the public school side. Many liberal Jews have lingering concerns over separation of church and state -- even for financing of secular aspects of Jewish day school education.

According to The Jewish Week, the three panelists for the session will be two academics -- including the leading historian of American Jewry -- and the head of a major teachers' union. It's a nice "get" to have a major skeptic of government funding, and two thoughtful scholars... but no sea change yet. Hopefully, sometime soon, JCPA will be in a position to give a platform to those in the community who are actively engaging in political advocacy for this cause, at the national, state and city levels;  a constitutional law expert; and possibly, one of the many community leaders who are also on board.

For now, it may be up to the Jewish Federations to lead the way, since that's where the donors are. Who better to appreciate what it costs to fund Jewish continuity?

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