In a Community View published in The Journal News, the President of the Rockland C0unty Teachers Association calls on the state to change the rules for funding private-school programs.
“As representatives of public school teachers throughout Rockland County, we’d like to express our support for the efforts of Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, and state Sen. David Carlucci to remedy the situation in the East Ramapo Central School District. Several reports by state monitors came to similar conclusions about the grave challenges facing East Ramapo and it’s clear that government action is needed to keep East Ramapo financially viable.
Though legislation passed in the spring addresses some concerns, it certainly doesn’t solve the underlying problem: Public monies funding non-public schools, leading to the potential financial destruction of a public school system. More importantly, current efforts ignore the most glaring question: What are we prepared to do to prevent the “next” East Ramapo?
On June 21, Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of the New York-based Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, addressed the school board of Ramapo Central Schools over a change in the district’s transportation policy for non-public schools. We believe that he insinuated that Ramapo Central may become the next East Ramapo.
Public school districts are required by state law to provide several, potentially costly services to private schools, including transportation and special education. If private school enrollment grows much larger than public school enrollment, as is the case in East Ramapo, the costs of these services can break a public school system. Considering the growth of the private-school community in Rockland County, we believe that the scenario outlined by Mr. Gestetner could apply to all public school districts in the county.
It is clear that the current system that allocates public money to non-public schools, especially religious schools, is broken. When private schools receive a large percentage of the public school budget, public schools never thrive. East Ramapo is not unique. We see similar situations in Hempstead and Lawrence, both on Long Island, and Lakewood, New Jersey. The current system cannot work.
For example, tax-exempt properties have increased significantly in the Ramapo Central School District in the last five years, while public funding to private schools has grown exponentially. These trends will cause financial hardships for the public school system and taxpayers.
In school districts with large numbers of private schools, programs and opportunities for public school children are diminished. As highlighted by several reports about East Ramapo by state monitors, much of the funding going to private schools is unmonitored and school boards may lack accountability. This situation opens the door to the kind of corruption we are experiencing in Rockland and puts the futures of thousands of public school children in jeopardy. If this system is allowed to continue, excellent school systems that serve thousands of children of all races and religions will be crushed under the weight of this financial burden.
We are asking state legislators to address this threat to our public schools before it’s too late. We need the state to either change laws that require public spending on private schools or to pay directly for the costs of these requirements, rather than asking local school districts to do so.
Legislators can sit by and watch opportunities for public school children disappear or they can take action to make sure no public school system becomes the next East Ramapo. Citizens in our country have lost faith in government institutions. It is time for government to try and restore that faith. Protecting our public schools is a great place to start.”
The writer is president of the Rockland County Teachers Association and is writing on behalf of the Rockland BOCES Staff Association, the Clarkstown Teachers Association, the Nanuet Teachers Association, the Nyack Teachers Association, the North Rockland Teachers Association, the Education Association of South Orangetown, the Pearl River Teachers Association and the Ramapo Teachers Association.
This piece appeared originally in The Journal News as a Community View.