Lakewood Municipal Gov’t Is Using COVID Emergency Funds To Reimburse Parents for Yeshiva Tuition. Is This Kosher?

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Here’s a creative use of federal emergency funds intended to address learning loss suffered by low-income students during pandemic-induced school closures: Lakewood Township is offering tuition money to parents whose children are enrolled in ultra-Orthodox yeshivas.

Is that kosher? It’s unclear. According to the U.S. Education Department rules regarding fhe Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021, non-public schools are eligible for funding but at far lower amounts than public schools: New Jersey’s share is $73,135,000. That’s supposed to cover programs in private schools throughout the state to address (secular) learning loss, summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive after-school programs, high-dosage tutoring, and HVAC renovations. In order to access those funds, non-public schools, according to the feds, apply to “each Governor with an approved Certification and Agreement to provide services or assistance to eligible non-public schools to address the impact that the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has had, and continues to have, on non-public school students and teachers in the State.”

But Lakewood has a special arrangement that bypasses the Governor and the State Department of Education. According to an article in the Jewish paper Hamodia, the municipal government of Lakewood Township is creating an “Educational Assistance Program [that] will be available for families who pay for private school that fall beneath a certain income threshold and can prove they have been adversely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.” The income threshold is $198,000 with an extra $10K for each additional child. The grants will be adminstered by the New Jersey office of Agudath Israel, which describes itself as “the arm and voice of American Orthodox Jewry.” (The Lakewood Scoop clarifies that a married couple with five children would be eligible as long as their income is below $248,000.) Each eligible applicant receives a minimum of $2,500 per child; checks are mailed directly to parents.

“For the first time ever in the history of the Garden State, there will be real money being allocated to families for educational expenses,” Rabbi Avi Schnall [photo above], director of Agudath Israel’s New Jersey office, said in a statement. “We are proud that Agudath Israel will be administering this important grant.” Lakewood residents can apply directly online or, if they do not have Internet access, through the New Jersey office of Agudath Israel at 930-B East County Line Road in Lakewood NJ, 08701. Applicants will be asked to fill out information and submit a copy of their 2019 and 2020 tax returns, as well as an outstanding bill for educational expenses.

Why is a badly overcrowded municipality, bursting with its own infrastructural needs, using its federal emergency funds to reimburse Haredi parents who typically pay their own tuition for private ultra-Orthodox yeshivas (unless their children are deemed eiligible for special education services, a whole other story)?  Let’s ask Rabbi Schnall: 

He says he “approached the municipality with the prospect, and found the township leadership was in favor of the plan.” 

Of courrse they were. The Vaad, a council of 11 ultra-Orthodox men, controls the city council just like it controls the Lakewood Board of Education

I’m reminded of Education Law Center’s David Sciarra’s comment this past October when news appeared that local and state taxpayers had paid Lakewood Public Schools attorney Michael Inzelbuch $3 million in compensation over the last four years. Here’s Sciarra:

It’s clear the Lakewood School Board will pay Mr. Inzelbuch whatever he wants, whenever he wants it, with no accountability. (Acting) State Education Commissioner (Angelica) Allen-McMillan needs to explain to the parents and students in Lakewood why she won’t act to stop this outrageous abuse of public tax dollars.

Sciarra isn’t talking about the “Educational Assistance Program” but he could be. After all, what about all the many other yeshivas throughout New Jersey that don’t happen to be in Lakewood? What about Christian schools and private independent schools?

You get bupkes without the Lakewood Vaad. Suck it up.

 

 

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