By Gabe Aaronson
On Rosh Hashanah, we ask ourselves: “How did I do this year compared to last year?” As a parent and data person engaged in the subject of Jewish day school tuition, also I find myself asking: How did Jewish day schools do in this year’s state budget compared to last year’s?
Let’s start with the numbers.
Comparing the 2019 and 2020 fiscal year budgets, Maryland nonpublic schools experienced a drop of nearly $1 million, or 4.3 percent, in funding ($21.0 million in the FY2019 versus $20.1 million in the FY2020). Now, $20.1 million may sound like a lot of money, but not when you consider there are 123,000 nonpublic school students in Maryland. Then it breaks down to about $163 per student. This is practically a rounding error (three tenths of one percent, to be precise) compared to the $6.5 billion — $7,543 per student — the state spends on K-12 education.
Make no mistake: There’s no better way to spend state money than on education. A well-educated populace is vital for the future of our economy, our democracy and our children’s livelihoods. Yet Jewish day schools contribute to the same public good — an educated populace — that public schools do. Nonpublic schools educate 12 percent of Maryland K-12 students in science, technology, engineering, math and language arts. If all the nonpublic schools closed tomorrow, then the government would need to educate those students at a cost of $2 billion per year.
Don’t they deserve a more comparable amount of public funding to their public
school peers? But that’s not why I call the current state affairs a disgrace. It’s a disgrace because:
1. Jewish day schools are vital for a Jewish future.
2. The cost of day school tuition crisis is crushing our families.
3. Every single Jew in Maryland has the political influence to shift the needle on government funding for our schools, but only a handful (let’s call them a rounding error, too) are doing so.
Points 1 and 2 are pretty uncontroversial. Who denies the importance of a Jewish education or the high cost of tuition? Point 3 is harder to swallow. Are you, Gabe Aaronson, telling me that I can just waltz up my state legislator, ask for more funding and that will result in more funding?
Yes. And here’s how to do it:
1. Know your legislators. Go online, find your four state legislators (1 senator, 3 delegates), read their websites and follow them on Twitter. They are your new best friends.
2. Track the issues. Subscribe for legislative updates from the OU, Agudath Israel and Catholic Conference. They will keep you updated on the day school funding issues.
3. Make phone calls. Go online, look up your legislator’s phone number, and call it four times per year. Be polite (they are your friend), acknowledge their work, explain why Jewish day schools matter to you, how you (or people you know) struggle with tuition and ask them to support funding for nonpublic schools.
4. Arrange visits. If you are involved with a Jewish day school, then invite your legislators to visit.
5. Send emails. Your legislators check email. Whenever an issue is being debated in the legislature (see #2 above), email your four legislators asking them to support our side in this issue. On Rosh Hashanah, we should all be thinking about on how we will do a better job — personally and politically — in the year 5880. WJW
Gabe Aaronson does IT project management for the Defense Health Agency and public policy and communications consulting for various clients. He lives in Silver Spring.