Proponents of Jewish day schools are welcoming Gov. Chris Christie’s call to restore some $3.5 million in state aid to technology programs in the state’s private and parochial schools.
The request to the Legislature, affecting some 30,000 students in Jewish day schools, represents one-half of the $7 million removed from the state budget three years ago.
“That comes to $20 a student. I think is a good-faith effort, but that doesn’t mean we are forgetting about the other $3.5 million,” said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations. “We will certainly try to get that amount restored as well, but at this point, it is a step in the right direction.”
Toporek’s group formed a coalition that included two Orthodox organizations, Agudath Israel of New Jersey and the Orthodox Union, and the New Jersey Catholic Conference, to press for full restoration of the $7 million.
The funds are intended to purchase computerized “smart boards” and other electronic equipment. All of it will be owned by local public school boards and placed on loan to the private schools.
All of the $7 million in funds were a part of the budget passed last June by the Democratic-controlled State Senate and Assembly, “but the governor line-item vetoed it,” Toporek told NJ Jewish News.
In his Feb. 21 budget address, Christie agreed to restore $3.5 million of those funds.
Josh Pruzansky, NJ regional director for public policy at the Orthodox Union, also welcomed Christie’s action but said he would prefer a full restoration.
“We would have been happier had the full $40 per student been reinstated, but we are happy for this move,” he said. “In the year 2102, when education is so driven by technology, it is ridiculous that our children were unable to access any technology. Now that these funds are available, they will be of major help for the schools and a major help for the children.”
Rabbi Meir Brody, director of Agudath Israel of New Jersey, also welcomed the funding proposal and hoped for more.
But Paul Tractenberg, a professor at Rutgers Law School, questioned the allocation of public resources to private schools.
Even as the Christie administration champions quality education for all children, it is quietly “walking away from a commitment to at-risk students in the public schools,” he said. “It is a move toward the Orthodox Jewish community and the Catholic community.”