Agudath Israel to Congress: Excluding Religious Schools ‘Makes No Sense’


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agudah11.jpgWASHINGTON, D.C. – As the U.S. Congress considers President Barack Obama’s Economic Stimulus Package, Agudath Israel of America’s Washington Office is sending a clear message to members of both the Senate and House of Representatives, urging lawmakers to “provide the full measure of federal education assistance to all schoolchildren,” including those in nonpublic schools like Jewish day schools and yeshivos.

In advocating this message, Washington Director and Counsel Rabbi Abba Cohen is focusing on two aspects of the proposed legislation. One concerns several programs aimed at modernizing, renovating or repairing educational institutions to ensure that they are safe, healthy, high-performing and technologically up to date. As currently drafted, the provision effectively excludes the entire gamut of religious educational institutions – day schools to yeshivos gedolos – from receiving any benefits – a lapse that Rabbi Cohen contends “simply makes no sense.”

“The goal of these programs” he explains, “is to help address our nation’s economic crisis with an eye to enhancing the health and safety of students, the technological proficiency of their educational environments and access for the disabled at schools.” Not only is there no reason nonpublic schools should be excluded, the Agudath Israel representative notes, “but religious schools have participated in similar programs in the past.”

The second area addressed by the Agudath Israel communication is a proposed “State Fiscal Stabilization Fund” (SFSF) intended to bolster services at elementary and secondary schools.  Permissible uses for the fund include activities authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act – all programs whose “equitable participation” clauses require that nonpublic schools receive their fair share of federal services and funding. But the proposed SFSF fails to clearly state that nonpublic schools would be eligible, like their public school counterparts, to benefit from the fund. This, it is feared, might provide an opening for limiting their eligibility.

Agudath Israel’s lobbying on these issues has encompassed both oral and written communications and, because of its high priority, the organization has mobilized its national network of grassroots activists to assist the Washington Office in its efforts. Rabbi Cohen has also been working closely with the Council for American Private Education, the United States Catholic Conference and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations.

While the legislation passed the House without the desired changes, action now moves over to the Senate, which appears more amenable to the proposed amendments. In any event, a conference committee is expected to be convened to iron out differences between the bills and passage is not projected until the President’s Day break. This leaves several weeks, and numerous opportunities, for additional advocacy.

Rabbi Cohen extended his offer to the members of both House and Senate “to work with you and your staff[s] to craft amendments that would effectively address these issues.”

(YWN Desk – NYC)


  1. americaisover for the second time this week you have felt compelled to impart your genius with the rest of us.Unfortunately that also makes you 0-2.

    The mission of an Advocacy group is to do just that advocate.These are our issues. Clearly we must pick and choose our battles. My question is what puts you in a better position to know when and which fights are important to fight for? Unless you work for a major Klal organization or work as a Congressional aid, I suspect your thoughts are just conjecture. Assuming that is the case,
    your deep analysis of the Aguda’s work this week is wrong and uninformed.
    The Agudah is highly regarded on the hill
    (maybe more than in our camp how pathetic) and Abba Cohen in particular has significant access and is held in very high esteem there.
    When a politician is being lobbied to support a conservative bill on a moral issue, they look to the Agudah or the OU or the Religious establishment
    (Catholics etc…)to offer a position paper that gives credibility and political cover to those elected official that may have been looking for support on that measure. Ask anybody who has worked in a Congressional office.

    I address my comments to the usual suspects.
    It is unfortunate that every time a post is made here regarding the efforts of our organizations be it the Agudah or the OU etc…naysayers and cynics feel compelled to knock and disparage.
    You guys are just punching yourself in the face.
    These are our representatives like it or not.Get with the program and stop the self hate.
    An honest feeling or opinion is ones right to make granted, but speaking as fact when one is clearly not knowledgeable is wrong and unfair.If one has a personal bias then using these sites anonymously to further their own prejudice has to be a pretty low thing to do. Furthermore,to do so against dedicated Askanim like R CD Zwiebel or Abba Cohen is that much more damaging to them and to us.Many secular people read these posts and comments.
    These blogs are opinion makers, tread carefully.
    Your sin may be to great to bear.

  2. To #2,
    Your comments are inappropiate & totally out of place! The Agudah is trying to help us who have children in Yeshiva’s. The financial situation in the Yeshiva’s is very difficult and any help that they can get from the “Medina Shel Chesed” Government would be greatly appreciated! The Agudah should be commended and encouraged for this effort!

  3. Perhaps the only way to get our point across to the Congress is by EVERYONE sending all their children next year to the public schools. If all of the parents of all children (especialy citizens ) would start to register in the local public schools,the government would not be able to handle the need for more schools and teachers and then give equal benefits to the private schools who can do much more with the same amount of resources as the public schools can.

  4. Barack Obama is a humanist and an extreme leftist. He may also be an anti-semite or else how could he sit for 20 years and listen to a galach castigate Israel and the Jews?