Got Orthonomics in your Email Box?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Private Programs and Government Funding

A reader kindly wrote me today asking me to comment on the 4th school closing in Lakewood (turns out the second school to close has announced it is re-opening under new leadership in the same location. I have yet to figure out this works out in terms of numbers since it seems that none of the facts on the ground have changed, behind on payroll, same building/same mortgage).

If you have been reading some of the Jewish news sites (the blow-by-blow is at TLS), you might have run across a rather intriguing and confusing episode which I will attempt to piece together with some commentary below. Those who do not live in the tri-state area, particularly one of the more insular NY/NJ communities, will once again be rather surprised to find out about all the government funded goodies that are enjoyed by those who simultaneously scream about the massive property tax rates that they pay and the discrimination against private school students.

For a number of years, the Lakewood Board of Education has outsourced pre-school and special education programs. Starting this summer, the State of New Jersey, upon review of outsourced programs, made it clear to the Lakewood Board of Education that it would not continue to fund preschool programming (at a tune of $4 mil), should the Lakewood Board of Education continue their contracts with certain outside providers that did not pass muster. The Lakewood BOE voted to discontinue such contracts and bring the special education in-house. The BOE believes that outsourcing (at least outsourcing to these schools) was not a responsible and efficient use of taxpayer money.

The timing, as in the other school closings, couldn't be worse. One program, frequented by a good number of frum parents, which goes under the name Tiny Tots simply closed its doors. Many Lakewood Tiny Tot parents are irate, even going to such (inappropriate) lengths such as holding a midnight protest in front of one BOE member's home. They are up in arms that FRUM board members would shut down "THEIR" program and force their children into PUBLIC SCHOOL. Employees and spouses are irate that the BOE, in these difficult times, would put a number of people in the kehilla out of work.

Here is my take: Like it or not, their children were enrolled in public school, but because the Lakewood BOE had outsourced pre-school services, parents were able to "have their cake and eat it too." Government funding essentially created a "frum" private school and parents were happy to have the government paying for their children's therapies and daycare, within a private environment. And until the State came to take a good look at the program, where they expressed concerns about the curriculum and facilities, everything was rolling along just fine.

But as we all know, when you aren't paying your own way, there is no such thing as "private"; strings are always attached. Certainly there was more freedom to include a Jewish education within the pre-school programming, but in the end, the program was accountable to the state because it was not independently viable. As one BOE member stated, "While they [parents who were receiving full time day care] were able to have the amenities of Tiny Tots at a reduced rate due to the profit made by Tiny Tots from the BOE contract, I don’t think the BOE is responsible to provide them with full day day care. If Tiny Tots closed down because they can’t turn a profit from that portion of the business, why should we be held accountable? "

Which brings me to another observation---their seems to be some confusion amongst commentors about the responsibility of the BOE members. While these members are often elected because of a cost cutting/tax cutting agenda, I think that the Orthodox community fantasizes that public programming cuts will be cut, while the community will see an increase in government goodies. Ultimately, BOE members have a fiduciary duty to represent the best educational and financial interests of all those who reside in the School District. And in this case, Board Members had to preserve a budget over the jobs and profits of owners and employees of an outsourced programs.

I feel terrible for the parents who have had the rug pulled out from under them, seemingly without warning. But amidst the yelling about PUBLIC SCHOOL and hurting people in the community, I think it is important to understand how government funding works. Should vouchers ever become a reality, as so many people hope for, be prepared for more of the same. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Parents of special needs children have a moral obligation to get them good educational services. If that means moving out of Ir HaKodesh into a district that can better meet their kids' needs (in a legal fashion), then so be it. You don't have a guaranteed right to live in Lakewood AND get the best special ed services for your disabled kid. Not surprisingly, Lakewood appears to have a weak public school system. Remember, the public school is only required to provide a free and appropriate education for your child, not a free and superb education. However, there are some districts with Jewish communities that do have superb services. Move.

Shira and Joey said...

Fantastic post.

People in Lakewood have gotten used to "free lunch" between section 8, medicaid, WIC, food stamps....why should this be any different?

And you know people are crying anti-semitism...

Anonymous said...

So what's wrong with a free lunch? Are we not also citizens of this great country! The more we can get the better. Better that the money go to our kids.

Orthonomics said...

Free lunches, i.e. dependency, has destroyed many a community. Please let me know what welfare dependent community you would like to emulate because I can't think of any.

I guess wanting a free lunch is nothing new under the sun. Even some of the Jewish people would have been happy to return to slavery in Mitzrayim for the free lunch provided by Pharoh.

Anonymous said...

We need to advocate more effectively to get our fair share of support from the government. I know many in the community don't like our current president, but it's much easier now than in the past to get the support many of us need to make our lives just a little bit easier. My kids get free breakfast in addition to free lunch in school, and my wife just received a free cell phone. If we advocate for it, I think that we can get at least the secular part of school paid for as well.

tesyaa said...

I think that we can get at least the secular part of school paid for as well

"at least" ?????

tesyaa said...

Are we not also citizens of this great country!

Yes! And like any other citizen, you can use the publicly available education system! That's what's so great. In the past, in other times and other countries, Jews have been discriminated against, and have not been able to receive the same services as the majority culture. Today, that's not the case. We are beautifully equal to everyone else. Oh, wait, you want more? Religious studies and schools that segregate Jewish children from other children? THAT you have to pay for.

Anonymous said...

What program gives out free cell phones - and why?

Anonymous said...

In my state, if you are part of the food stamp program, you automatically qualify for a free cell phone. It is a pretty basic one without internect connectivity, but my wife gets 200 free minutes per month. I think that there needs to be more publicity about these types of programs in the community. My wife found out about it from her case worker, and told some friends about it. I don't know if they qualify, but it never hurts to ask.

Anonymous said...

It is a pretty basic one without internect connectivity

Medina shel chessed! It's wonderful to have such a culturally sensitive food stamps program, keeping our pure yiddeshe mamas away from the traife internet...

Anonymous said...

We pay taxes too and should not be shy in getting all of the benefits that were as citizens are entittled to. Perhaps our Federation workers need to keep us better informed about what government benefits are available instead of having us bleed our own limited resources dry.

Anonymous said...

the problem is that the people who dont pay the taxes are the one who get the cell phone. so it is disingenious for you say "We pay taxes too and should not be shy in getting all of the benefits that were as citizens are entittled to".

Anonymous said...

once again we see the "don't be a 'frier' (sp?)" mentality.

anon 255pm says "perhaps our federation ...needs to keep up better informed"..

having been invovled in federation fund raising attempts, it struck me how few orthodox or RW orthodox jews will actually give to the federation. whether it was 'they dont give across the green line' or they give money to reform, there were as many excuses for the RW not to give as the unaffiliated jews.

but again the mentality of being a "taker" seems too well ingrained in the community. like its owed to you.

very sad.

not
"life, liberty and the pursuit of happininess"

but rather

"life , liberty and happiness"

uncle sam owes it to you

Anonymous said...

if it wasnt clear about the frier comment, its that you are a sucker if you dont grab it all

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with getting all you can from the government. If the nice people who work for Federation where more effective at getting government support and knowing more about govenment programs, then we wouldn't have to worry so much about Orthodox Jews supposedly not contributing their fair share. We have a case worker assigned to our family because I an unemployed. We do not have to take anything from the local comminity because we get government food stamps, housing support, a cell phone, free medical care, and lunch and breakfast for the kids. I told a friend who works at Federation about this, and he was shocked because this level of support was not available a couple of years ago. I guestimate that as a family we get more that $40,000 in assistance, and we do not have to burden the community.

Anonymous said...

Which state are you getting all these benefits from?

Dave said...

Apparently the local community doesn't pay taxes, since you aren't "burdening" them...

Anonymous said...

I was referring to the larger Jewish community. By the way, I used to pay taxes until I was laid off.