New York State Legislators Voice Support for Yeshiva Education at Agudath Israel’s Albany Day


In the third and final session of Agudath Israel of America’s 2023 Albany Days, Agudah brought together a group of yeshiva leaders and community advocates to share the community’s concerns with New York State’s elected officials. This visit to Albany coincides with the culmination of the budget season, when the Legislature and the governor negotiate an agreement on the final budget appropriations for the coming fiscal year. The budget must be completed by April 1. As such, the timing of Albany Day is critical to ensuring that Agudah’s earlier successful advocacy for budget items carries through to the final version of budget allocations.

Meetings With Legislators:

The most important part of Albany Day, as always, is individual face-to-face meetings with legislators and their staff members. Delegates from Brooklyn met with Senators Iwen Chu, Jeremy Cooney, Brad Hoylman-Sigal, and Jessica Scarcella-Spanton. They also met with Assemblymembers George Alvarez, Alec Brook-Krasny, Lester Chang, Simcha Eichenstein, Michael Novakhov, and Al Taylor. The delegates also met with the staffs of Senators Jamaal Bailey, Samra Brouk, Brian Kavanagh, Tim Kennedy, Roxanne Persaud and Sean Ryan, and Assemblymembers Michael Benedetto and William Colton.

At the meetings, the delegates discussed the critical need to raise security funding for nonpublic schools given the alarming rise in antisemitic hate incidents, and ensuring that the budget allocates enough money for reimbursement to schools of the expenses they incur for state-mandated immunization recordkeeping. They also advocated for Universal School Lunch which would ensure that every child’s school lunch is paid for.

Quotable Quotes:

Many legislators, including Senators Joe Addabo, Iwen Chu, Leroy Comrie, Simcha Felder, Joseph Griffo, John Liu, Shelley Mayer, Pete Oberacker and Bill Weber, as well as Assemblymembers Khaleel Anderson, Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn, Karl Branebec, Ari Brown, Sara Clark, William Colton, Jeff Dinowitz, Chris Eachus, Simcha Eichenstein, Charles Lavine, Grace Lee, Nikki Lukas, Michael Novakhov, Nader Sayegh, and Helene Weinstein joined the Agudah’s delegates for lunch in the Legislative Office Building (LOB) hosted by Assemblymember David Weprin. Following is a selection of quotes culled from the remarks some of the legislators shared with the delegates on subjects important to our community.

State Senator James Sanders:

“We find ourselves in a strange time in America. For whatever reason, folks have decided that the Jewish tradition is the cause of so many problems. And that’s bad enough to say that, but then they go a step further and say that they have the right to attack people that they disagree with. This, my friends, is a danger to us all. This is something that we have to stand against strongly.”

State Senator Joe Addabbo:

“I’m actually getting sick and tired of the propaganda about our yeshivas… I’ve been to many Yeshivas in my district and outside my district. And I just think that this propaganda really has got to stop.”

Assemblymember William Colton:

“We must stop being divisive in terms of saying, we can’t spend anything at a school that is a religious school. That’s the wrong attitude. We need to serve all children in all schools. I’m going to continue fighting for those principles.”

State Senator John Liu:

“We want the best education possible for everybody. Whether it be public schools, yeshivas, or any other educational institution – we want to make all of them the best that they can possibly be and not unfairly stigmatize any segments of our overall education.”

Assemblymember Chris Eachus:

“I had the privilege of teaching in a Yeshiva, and I know that the people who are coming down on us don’t know … And it seems like whether it’s private school or public school, we have people who are injecting themselves into the classroom itself – into the curriculum – that shouldn’t even be there. And so, I’m going to work very, very hard to be sure that we get those people out of our business of educating our kids the way that we want.”

Assemblymember Helene Weinstein:

“We have a responsibility to the public school system and to the nonpublic school system as well.”

Assemblymember Nader J. Sayegh:

“I have always been a big advocate for parental choice.”

Assemblymember Nikki Lucas:

“As a parent personally, it was important for me to be able to say that I have a right as a parent to educate my child in the best way that I see fit. That’s my choice as a parent, and I would never want to deny anyone.”

State Senator Bill Weber:

“Did the New York Times ever come in here and talk to anybody about their great yeshiva education? Did they ever come to the schools in my district? No, they didn’t. What they did was a hit job!”

State Senator Leroy Comrie:

“I understand the need to pass on traditions … I spoke out at the Yeshiva Summit because I felt your community is being persecuted.”

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn:

“I am here for you. I am here for your issues. I hear your issues, and we can come together to fight against hate.”

Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz:

“We have to do what is best for all children. That includes both the kids that are in public school and those who are not.”

Assemblymember Charles Lavine:

“As someone who has experienced antisemitism, I know how important it is that we come together to fight antisemitism.”

State Senator Shelley B. Mayer:

“We certainly want Jewish education to be a priority … We are fighting for traditional public schools, we are fighting for our nonpublic schools. Our job is to fight for kids.”

Mandated Services Aid:

Back in 1974, Agudah leader Rabbi Moshe Sherer’s advocacy helped pass what is now the single largest source of funding for nonpublic schools in New York State. The program reimburses nonpublic schools for services they perform because of state mandates. This program is called Mandated Services Aid (MSA).

In the past, the state has always been obligated to reimburse nonpublic schools for the complete cost of these services. In a problematic development, the Executive Budget contained language that would have capped the reimbursement based on the budget allocation, even if there was not enough funding. If reimbursement claims exceed the budget allocation for the year, nonpublic schools would not get their full reimbursement. Furthermore, the Executive Budget allocated only $193 million, while the State Education Department requested $210 million based on their estimates of the actual costs. This put schools at risk of a potential 8% shortfall in MSA .

In this year’s first two Albany Days, Agudah and community delegates advocated strongly for removal of the reimbursement cap. This language was, indeed, removed in both the Senate and Assembly One House budget proposals. Yesterday, Agudah representatives continued advocating for the language to remain as amended, thereby preserving the full funding for the MSA program for school year 2023-24. This followed Agudah’s testimony about the reimbursement cap at February’s legislative budget hearings in Albany, and Agudah leading an intense advocacy effort along with its coalition partners in the nonpublic school community.

“These trips up to Albany are extremely valuable. If we are not present and seen, then it becomes a lot harder to do the work we have to do,” said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudah’s executive vice president. “We are grateful to those who spent the day in Albany and were actively engaged in advocating for the interests of the community.”

“Communication is a crucial part of the Agudah’s advocacy efforts. These meetings of Agudah staff, local advocates, and community leaders together with their legislators are key to ensuring good communication,” said Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Agudah’s director of New York government relations. “We thank the legislators for their participation, and we will continue to be in contact with them throughout the course of the year to collaboratively work on issues facing the community.”

“The legislators were extremely receptive,” said Abe Schlisselfeld, a prominent community activist and senior managing director at CBIG Marks Paneth, which sponsored Agudah’s Albany Days this year. “And it was encouraging to see so many elected officials take a clear and uncompromising stand on the importance and integrity of yeshiva education.”


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