Agudath Israel: Universal Pre-K Should Include ‘Faith-Based’ Providers

Washington -

One of the President’s major public policy priorities for the coming term, as announced in his State of the Union address, is to make high quality preschool available to every child in the United States. In response, Agudath Israel sent a letter to the president with the message that any proposal to create a nationwide universal pre-K system must include faith-based providers.

In the letter, Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Federal Affairs and Washington Director wrote that “if early education for every child is to be a reality, we must offer parents the widest range of options” for their children, including preschool programs that are operated by religious providers.

Rabbi Cohen further pointed out that there were two ways this could be accomplished within Constitutional guidelines. The first is through direct aid to parents, who may then choose freely among various preschool alternatives.  “The Supreme Court has clearly ruled that in regard to programs that contain (subsidized or nonsubsidized) religious components, there is no state endorsement of religion when government funds flow in this manner,” the Agudath Israel representative said. Funds may also flow in the form of direct grants to, or contracts with, religious providers as long as those dollars are not used for any sectarian purpose or activity.

The Orthodox Jewish group asserts that including faith-based pre-K providers is good policy, as this segment makes up nearly one-third of all providers.  “With such a significant percentage, it is simply inconceivable to think that meaningful movement forward in universal pre-K can come about without including the faith-based sector,” the letter states.

To bolster his argument, Rabbi Cohen finds support in the Child Care and Development Fund program, which maximizes parental choice by including direct grants, contracts and certificates as ways to fund child care services — thus enabling both sectarian and nonsectarian providers to fully participate in a Constitutionally-approved manner. These funding alternatives, he wrote, “have opened up options to a multitude of parents and have helped ensure that all children will receive the most appropriate form of care.

“The President has said he intends to ‘expand access to early childhood education’ and we believe that this is a workable and effective means of achieving that goal. We hope he will adopt this approach and work with Congress to make it a reality,” Rabbi Cohen said.