Thursday, December 11, 2008

In Case Things Were Not Bad Enough

I arrived home last night to be greeted by an article on the front page of our newspaper that has relevance to the yeshiva economic situation here in New York. There are services which the state mandates that all private schools must provide. Among these are taking attendance each period, giving Regents exams etc. Because they are state mandated, private schools have always been reimbursed in full for the cost of the services to the school. Not this year.

The governor has already reduced the amount of the reimbursement to 88% for this year and is now looking for at least another 5% reduction. He has changed the wording of the payments so that they are no longer reimbursements, which have to be paid back to the schools. Now the repayment is "merely" voluntary on the part of the state.

A meeting at one of the Catholic schools in our area saw attendance of over 1200 parents. There was a call on the part of those at the meeting to all parents with children in private schools to join in with them in protesting the state action. A bill is already prepared that will be introduced into the state senate to have the mandated services returned to reimbursement status, requiring 100% repayment to the private schools. A parent was quoted as saying, "We understand that the state has a money flow problem right now and we would be willing to wait for that money, but all the money needs to be reimbursed."

In all the discussion I've seen on the blogs about the economic problems that yeshivas are having no one has mentioned that state aid, which almost all yeshivas get in some form or another, is not being given at full strength. And if the state is cutting the amount of money it reimburses yeshivas then I wonder if the city is doing so as well.

Real estate taxes here in NY go to fund education so all of us are putting into the kitty to pay for the public schools. A commenter elsewhere mentioned that it costs NY $16K to educate each child per year in the public schools. By that commenter's reckoning we are saving the state $16K for every child we don't send to public school. The amount the state has to reimburse private schools for mandated services is tiny in comparison to the savings the state gets. Yet, that reimbursement obviously figures into the budgets of yeshivas and other private schools.

This is yet another reason for full exposure on the parts of yeshivas as to where their money comes from, how much they are getting and where the money is going. Right now less money is coming into the yeshivas from the state with further cuts on the agenda. That can only spell trouble for already cash-strapped schools. Even if the language is changed back to "reimbursement," so that the state must pay back the yeshivas, the state doesn't have the money now to do so, and the reimbursement would be some time in the future. That doesn't help yeshivas right now. Nonetheless, it wouldn't hurt to write to your state representative and tell him/her that you want the language returned to "reimbursement" and you want the state to have to pay back monies being spent by yeshivas that are mandated by the state. In today's economic climate every little penny helps.


Anonymous said...

You're right that in all the discussions there is never any mention of aid the yeshivas get from government sources. Aren't items like breakfasts and lunches for those below certain income levels also paid for by the government? And textbooks? And don't mandated services also include the various therapists for kids who need them in the school setting?

You're also right that it's more then time that we parents found out just where all the money is coming in from and how much.

Anonymous said...

You wouldn't think that the yeshivas were getting all that much money for the required services. How much can you really charge for giving a few Regents exams? I don't think it's the missing state money that is causing the yeshivas all the economic problems. But you are right that we'll never know unless the yeshivas open up their books.

Anonymous said...

The Agudas Yisroel was involved the last time when the state was setting up what would be reimbursed and how much so they should know how much money yeshivas get from the state for providing mandated services. It can't be peanuts or the Aguda wouldn't have gotten involved.

Orthonomics said...

Thanks for pointing out this info. I'm out of town, as well as out of state. We don't have much state funding.

Bas~Melech said...

Private/parochial schools receive way too little recognition from the government. I think the only way to open their eyes to what they really owe us would be for EVERY parent of private-school students to register their child for public school for next year. (They could always cancel the registration before school starts, after making their point). I think if that happened the government would very quickly realize that it's worth their while to help support non-public schools.

While we pay the same taxes if not more than the average public school parent, the amount that goes into our children's education is minimal at best. I forget the actual statistic, but the government spends more on each public school student than the cost of yeshiva tuition. We should not be feeling the budget cuts first.

Anonymous said...

You're only saving the state $16K per kid if there were a possibility that they would have to spend the money and educate the kids. Public school is not an option for 95% of Orthodox kids, and those kids will never be registered for public school. Plus, $16K is an average that includes special education services, some of which the state is already paying for special ed services in yeshiva. (Costs for the severly disabled are, I imagine, in excess of $50K, which skews the average).

Anonymous said...

BasMelech, if you cancel the registration before school starts, you are un-making your point. Plus, the community will lose any credibility it has and may need in the future.

Bas~Melech said...

Here: According to the US Census Bureau, the average spending per student in NY in 2006 was $14,884, with NJ close behind. And this is the overall population, consisting mostly of general ed students.

If they spent that much on private school students, a. they'd go broke; b. there would be no more tuition crisis; c. yeshiva teachers might get paid with money.

Bas~Melech said...

I don't think cancelling in the end would necessarily un-make the point. The Department of Education would have several months to fly into a panic first and recognize the role that private schools serve. I mean, just think about what would happen if all the yeshiva students in Brooklyn alone would register for public schools -- the DOE would have to realize that they can't possibly come up with the space, teachers, and instructional materials necessary to educate the influx of thousands. If they spread their resources any thinner their NCLB grades would certainly plummet. I'm having a very entertaining daydream right now of the district chairpeople on their knees begging us to take back our kids. ;-)

As for special education, I'm sure we could find out how much is spent on Sp.ed specifically and figure out the new average. I don't think it would make such a lot of difference because the majority of students are not in specia ed. Furthermore, the state does not fully cover all special ed services in Yeshiva -- talk to anyone who's tried to get their kid help.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you realize it's a daydream.

Do you think it would be obvious that while the kids were all being registered for public schools, the yeshivas wouldn't be shutting down? That preparations for the next academic year would be business as usual?

Bas~Melech said...

Of course the yeshivas would be business as usual. They know full well that their thousands of students would never actually set foot in a public school.

However, nothing is lost by registering for PS. It's free. ;-)
(I talk general ed only. It would be more complicated for special ed kids who do receive some DOE services)

Anonymous said...

No, it would be obvious to the state that is still conducting whatever business it needs to conduct with the yeshivas, that the yeshivas are not shutting down.

Also, it's a daydream to imagine that every Orthodox Jew would agree to do the same thing. Especially this. You can't register by mail, you actually have to go to a school or the Board of Ed to do so. Would you take your kids to that pritzusdike place? Your little maidi and tzaddikel? Expose them to THAT??

Bas~Melech said...

Most public schools I have been in are not nearly as pritzusdik as the average city street. So yes, I would take my maidel and tzaddikle. And while we were there I'd point out how lucky they are that they get to be in a Yeshiva.

Anonymous said...

The way I know this is a dumb threat that would never work is no one has done it, and yes, people have been talking about it since time immemorial (OK, decades). I'm sure there's some clause in NCLB that allows exceptions for an exceptional influx in enrollment.

Bas~Melech said...

Your insinuation that anything intelligent has been done already is hilarious.

I'm not saying this is not a dumb threat. Just saying that that is an awfully lame reason to say so.

And no, as far as I know the NCLB act has no such clause. The best they could do is try to classify yeshiva students as ELLs which would only help if they actually stuck around, and would be likely to create its own slew of problems. This wouldn't actually happen; It's the theoretical implications that I'm pondering.

Anonymous said...

((For whatever reason the Blogger signin is giving me grief again today))

I'm curious, is falsely claiming that you will send your children to public schools Halakhically valid?

Anonymous said...

Dave, frum people don't worry about things like that!

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, Tesyaa, but please don't lump all frum people together. There are those of us who are frum who would worry about the repercussions. Your statement is no more accurate than saying that all Irish people are drunks or all Scottish people are stingy.

Anonymous said...

Allen, I was using "frum" as a sociological adjective, not as a description of religious values. Sorry that was not clear.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'll bite--what is a sociological adjective? Doesn't frum by definition have a religious connection?

Anonymous said...

Jake -- if members of the "frum" community embarked on such a scheme to deceive the Board of Ed into thinking there would be a mass enrollment of yeshiva students into public school, would that be religiously scrupulous? Yet would those people still describe themselves as "frum"? "Frum" can be used as a term describing a part of society, not necessarily religious observance.

Anonymous said...

I think you're wrong Tesyaa. If you use the word frum to describe a part of society what does it refer to? It refers to that part of society that is Jewishly, religiously observant. It can't be applied to any other part of society. Frum has no meaning outside of describing religious observance. If you ask someone if what they are doing is a "frum" thing to do you are actually asking them if religiously observant people would do that thing.

As to how those people would describe themselves, I would guess they would still refer to themselves as frum. We see a precedent for that. Plenty of "frum" Jews who have been involved in financial scandals and in the hushed up school sex abuse cases and no one ever refers to them as anything but frum, and they refer to themselves the same way. Does commiting one aveiroh automatically make you not frum? How many does it take? Of what kind?

Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, how much money are we talking about that the state reimburses the yeshivas and other private schools? If they are going to pay 17% less then how much in dollars and cents is that? Is it really enough to stage a registration of all private school students in the public schools? Or is it really enough of a savings to the state for the state to take on this fight with the public schools?

Anonymous said...

Oops, meant in that last line "fight with the private schools."

ProfK said...

Please see my answer to your question in tomorrow's continued posting on this topic.

Dave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave said...

Here are the relevant sections of the New York State Constitution (Article XI):

Section 1. The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.
§ 2. [Not applicable to this discussion]
§ 3. Neither the state nor any subdivision thereof, shall use its property or credit or any public money, or authorize or permit either to be used, directly or indirectly, in aid or maintenance, other than for examination or inspection, of any school or institution of learning wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denomination, or in which any denominational tenet or doctrine is taught, but the legislature may provide for the transportation of children to and from any school or institution of learning.

(Reposted with cleaner formatting)

ProfK said...

The reimbursements under contention are those covered in the state constitution--inspection and the costs for administering and reporting required examinations from grade one to twelfth grade, including the Regents exams. In addition, I guess either as an amendment or through legislative fiat, the state mandates that attendance be taken each period and that the private schools shall be reimbursed for this expense. Re the busing, yes, they provide this service and others as well, also under legislative allowance. NYSTL--the New York State Textbook Law provides that private schools get a monetary allowance for purchasing textbooks on the state approved list.Private schools also get an allowance for computers and certain allowed computer programs. The Catholic school parents are up in arms because the Governor changed the wording of the original legislation from "reimbursement," which would be mandatory to "suggested," which would be voluntary. The question is can the Governor change legislation that was passed long ago such that he changes the original intent of the legislation.

Orthonomics said...

How can we be so sure that NYS won't find a way to educate all new enrollees?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the textbook and computer policies are in violation of the New York State Constitution.

If they are, fighting this may result in a pyrrhic victory -- full payment for the examinations, but loss of the textbook and computer allowances.

((For whatever reason, I have intermittent issues in authenticating in to Blogger, so this is posted with just a name))

ProfK said...

NYSTL and its related computer component have been in place for decades. Any challenge to their consitutionality would have taken place long ago. New York is plenty litigious enough that were this a problem it would have been taken to the courts already. There is also this. Private schools are given a monetary credit, based on school enrollment, and may use the earmarked funds only with state approved vendors for state approved materials. The yeshivas and other private schools do not actually receive the funds into their hands. HOWEVER, the private schools do not own the materials thus purchased; they are on loan from the state. If a school purchases replacement materials the old materials have to be returned to the state. Clearly the courts did not find this as a violation of the state constitution.

Just in my borough alone there are four new schools that the city has promised to build because of overcrowding in the present schools. City Board of Ed can not force busing off Staten Island for school. So, there aren't enough seats for the kids already registered. If more than expected come into the system suddenly then Board of Ed will have to look for temporary premises to house these students. The irony is that the only empty premises we have on Island that could house kids being schooled would be the temporarily empty private school buildings. In addition, were 1000 students to enroll in August for school the Board of Ed would have to hire 40-45 new teachers at a minimum within a short time frame. And far from cutting money from the budget the state would have to find millions and millions of dollars suddenly to pay for educating the influx of new students. See my post tomorrow for the numbers.

Anonymous said...

ProfK, I hope you will address the ethics, if not the halacha, of the mass "enrollment" threat, plus the ramifications to the community's credibility in the wake of such an event.

What exactly are we entitled to for paying school taxes? If I don't use my local park, library, or fire department for a year, am I entitled to a reduction in myproperty taxes?

Lion of Zion said...


"Private schools also get an allowance for computers and certain allowed computer programs."

do you have any more info on this. i'm trying to find out why my son's school has a technology surcharge.

also does anyone know if the yeshivot are ellibible for funding for a school nurse and/or nutritionist?

ProfK said...

Go to for the then Attorney General's Report on Non-Public Education. The computer issue is discussed in there as well as other legal issues pertaining to what Dave asked above.

I would add in this based on my experience in the last yeshiva high school that I taught in. At least in 1997-1998 non-public schools were very limited in the type of program materials they could buy for the loaned computers. Strangely enough we weren't entitled to get word processing programs to use in teaching our high school students. The reason? They were worried that the school offices would also use these programs, something not covered under the loan program. We could, and did, get math and science teaching programs, although, again, limited in type.

It could be that your son's school is buying software/hardware that is not covered under the loan program, but I would advise checking that the computer surcharge is going for the computers for the students' use, not the use of the offices.

ProfK said...

I'm not qualified to speak about the halachic issues involved in this problem. I imagine they fall somewhere in the realm of what you can do to collect a debt owed to you. Any reader who does know please feel free to comment.

Re the ethics, recast the problem and see how you feel. Private showers in homes are not provided everywhere people live. Instead the state provides numerous showering facilities around the city.

You have a private shower in your home. The state mandates that you must have the connections from the public water supply to your private shower tested yearly. The state has also publicly promised that it will reimburse you for that testing. Now the state has told you that it is changing the rules mid stream and will only give you 83% of the money you spent back. You let the state know that unless they make a promise that they will reimburse in full you are going to start using the public showers despite having a private one of your own.

You are, as a citizen of the state, entitled to use those public showers; having a private shower does not nullify your rights to the public showers. You tell the state that if they play games with the money they owe you legitimately that you and all other private shower owners are going to go use the public showers, even if only for a week or so. If you can't recoup your money one legal way you are going to recoup it in a different but also legal way. For one week you are not going to be paying all the charges associated with your private shower. For one week you are going to be using the public showers that you are fully entitled to use. And yes, it costs the state a lot to pay for the added people that are suddenly using the public showers. There may suddenly be a shower shortage.

But have you done something unethical? You have announced publicly that you are not planning on using the public showers you are entitled to by law for an entire year; you are only going to use them until you can recoup the money that you are also legally entitled to. Isn't it also a question of ethics when you look at the state's actions? Was the state acting in an ethical fashion when they contracted to reimburse you and then decided not to?

No, two wrongs don't make a right, so saying that because the state acted in an unethical fashion doesn't give us carte blanche to act in the same way. But then what are our options? If there is no court-based or legislative-based remedy to help us collect a debt owed to us then what is left? Yes, we could just say "tough on us" and swallow the lack of money repaid. And when the state goes down from 83% to 75%--after all we didn't make a real stink after the first and second reductions--then what will you do? Shrug again? Does it make a difference from an ethics point of view if we have announced our intentions publicly and vocally?

What if public shower users thought we were right and should come and use the public showers? What if a large number of people in the state thought that the state was wrong, not the private shower owners? Would that change the perception of the ethics involved? Wouldn't that take care of "ramifications to the community's credibility in the wake of such an event."

In short, there are pros and cons on both sides of the issue. Are we ethically required to lay down and let others walk all over us? The fact that it is not only yeshivas which are being shortchanged needs to be looked at as well; it is all private schools. That would also address "ramifications to the community's credibility in the wake of such an event." It is a far larger community than the Jewish community alone.

Anonymous said...

I heard a story (I can't confirm it but maybe a quick google would) that back in the 90's, the Catholic schools here in Baltimore had their parents enroll all their kids in the public schools because they wanted free busing- and my understanding is that it worked for a few years... The influx of kids forced the public schools to bus the catholic school kids.

Dave said...

Is this really a case of not being paid what you are owed?

Note that I'm assuming that the Governor has the legal right to take this action; if he doesn't that's a separate matter.

But to say that what was paid in the past is therefore obligated to be paid in the future just doesn't make sense to me.

Also, I'm assuming that the threat would be "we are enrolling for the year". My question is, is it halakhically valid to threaten an action that you have no intent of ever carrying out?

ProfK said...

I'm not a lawyer but I asked my resident legal expert if one party to a written and signed contract could change the language of that contract unilaterally without consultation with the other parties to the contract. The answer I got was "no." How the agreement was established between the state and the private schools I don't know specifically but what is being reported is that the Governor changed the wording. Two state representatives from our area already have legislation to be presented in Albany to restore the original wording and the cuts. As I previously mentioned, the Catholic school parents (and I would imagine the Yeshiva parents as well) are willing to take an IOU for the owed monies for when the state is in better financial condition. Had the Governor just asked that to begin with he would have found cooperation. But by acting as he did he is now reaping the results.

I reread the reports and nobody was saying "registering for a year." It was simply a threat to register altogether. Even a week would cause chaos.

Dave said...

A governmental policy isn't a contract. I'd be very leary of trying to conflate the two. If it is just policy, then the Governor may well have the authority (absent legislation) to change it.

When you register a child in New York for the schools, you don't have an option that says, "I'm only going to be there for a day/week/month", the registration is for the school year. Obviously the expect some percentage of students to move in a given year, but they are not assuming large blocks will show up for a very short period of time. It strikes me as dishonest to fill out a registration you don't intend to honor, but I don't know how Halakha views the matter.

If a parent who has no intention of keeping their child in school displaces a non-frum (or non-Jewish) child from getting into the school they want, is this action ethical at all? Is disrupting the education of other children for your own gain an ethical act?

And even if there were no ethical issue, how many frum families would send their children to public schools for so much as a week, much less a month? How many would do it for a single day?

Anonymous said...

Look at your statement Dave "Is disrupting the education of other children for your own gain an ethical act?" Now apply that statement to the governor. Isn't it what he is doing? Not getting the state money will disrupt the budgets and the children of the yeshivas, and he is holding the money back for his own gain. I'd say it was the governor whose ethics were in question first.

Besides, let's get real here. If the Catholics manage to organize themselves and show the governor that they are prepared to register that is probably all that will be necessary. I really doubt that he will call their bluff.

Dave said...

The Governor's gain?

Unless New York is somehow managed to avoid the current financial crisis, this isn't a matter of gain. It is a matter of triage.

Good programs, important programs, are being cut all over the country, not because someone wants to make a buck over it, but because there isn't enough money to pay for all of the good programs that we had.

If the Governor were proposing to reduce the payments to private schools in order to fund a targetted tax break, I would agree with you.

If the Governor were proposing to reduce the payments to private schools in order to fund a remodel of the government offices, I would agree with you.

But right now, governments all over this country are trying to figure out how to fund basic services. And that means cutting back on funding good programs, because the money is more desperately needed somewhere else. Is a 17% cut in payment for the Regents exam more or less important than fuel programs for the poor upstate? Is it more or less important than food kitchens and homeless shelters in New York City? Is it more or less important than keeping scholarships for students in State Colleges? It's easy to fund programs when the economy is doing well, but when revenues drop, everybody feels the pain.

I would be very surprised if there were a contract between private schools and the State of New York. For one thing, contracts require consideration on both sides. I could be wrong, but it seems far more likely to me that the State has been providing this funding as a matter of policy. And in hard economic times, many policies have their funding cut back.

Dave said...

(And of course, I see the error right after I hit post. That should be "has managed" not "is managed").

Bas~Melech said...

Regarding the halachic aspect, I would suggest that anyone considering that course of action consult with their trusted halachic authority. As mentioned above, though, this is highly theoretical.

To the last comment, I drafted a post about the economic priorities that should go up on my blog sometime this week. In short, I think they're cutting too much from vital things and not enough from places that could really spare it. They need to spend smarter, not just less.
But you are right that we can't take it too personally. Everyone is going to feel the burn somewhere. It just seems unfair to hit the ones who were getting so little to begin with.

Anonymous said...

I actually think if the disruption were only for a week, the threat would go away. The first few weeks of school are often chaos anyway, especially as far as transportation and classroom assignment go. Many time Transportation has told me to "please give us a couple of weeks until things settle down." And you know what, they do. So unless frum parents were in it for the long haul, the threat is empty.

Bas~Melech said...

Here's where we differ. I don't see it as a "threat," but rather as a form of civil protest to make a statement. It would pull in the media and the politicians.

And the chaos of classroom and transportation assignments settles down because everything is essentially in place, just things come up, organizational oversights, etc. However, any way you slice it, the government does not have the funds, facilities, or service providers to accommodate even a fraction of the private school population.

This really just boils down to a simple philosophical question of who is responsible for educating children. Is it the parents or the government? If it's the government, are they really prepared to put their money where their mouth is? I think not. And I'm fine with that. I just want them to recognize where things stand and stop trying to find places to cut corners where there's not much to cut.

(ProfK -- Sorry for hijacking your post! Hope you're enjoying this at least...)

Dave said...

Let's assume that they call your bluff.

They spend millions of dollars (pulling it away from other areas where it is needed), hire teachers, rent buildings or buy or rent trailers, juggle school assignments across the city.

And then what, after a week, a month, you say "Oh, we didn't really mean it, we were just pressuring you." What would you say to all the people whose lives were affected? How would they think of you?

Now, I tend to agree with you, it is not terribly likely that they would call your bluff. However, my personal view is that it is unethical to threaten an action you know that you will never follow through on. Your view may vary.

Anonymous said...

I think that an important fact is being overlooked in the discussion. It's not that the Catholic school parents are asking to get the money the state promised them back right now. What they are asking for is that the state promise them that when there is more money that they will be paid back what was removed now. It looks to me that the state is considering this as a permanent cut and that is what is upsetting the parents.

ProfK said...

You are right Dave that restoring the cut money right now is not as important as making sure that essential services are being provided to those who need them. But that assumes that all "pork barrel" spending on the part of the state will be eliminated and that only essential services will be funded until we have more money. And it should mean, according to you, that anything that is not under a valid contract but is only a matter of policy should be a fair target for reductions.

You have more faith than I do that the state will be even handed in its cuts and will reduce all state spending to something any reasonable person would consider as essential.

Bas~Melech said...

I posted on my blog, and you will see that, being involved in the educational system at present, I have even less faith than ProfK.

They are cutting very important things while making stupid decisions that cost money. Though my post is more about my personal point of view right now, rest assured that the whole government runs pretty much the same way. Except I think education deserves better because the stakes are mighty high.

Dave said...

I have little faith that the State will be even-handed. Then again, I'm not sure that even-handed is what is called for -- that would simply be an across-the-board reduction, and that would be bad policy.

But where the cuts should be made is a matter of policy, and policy is and should be a matter of debate.

All I objected to was the use of a specific sort of threat; I don't think it is an ethical act to threaten something you don't intend to do. There are plenty of other ways to affect policy.

And for what it's worth, a request that the state promise to restore the funding when times are better seems perfectly reasonable to me.