Yeshiva leaders, administrators, community activists and parents filled an Agudath Israel conference room Tuesday night to honor New York State Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan, a man who has supported and spearheaded important legislation benefitting nonpublic school students across New York State. Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s Executive Vice President, called Senator Flanagan “a special hero who has made historic strides and gains for the yeshiva community.”
“It is appropriate to gather together to fulfill the obligation to recognize good – hakaras hatov,” said Rabbi Zwiebel. He lauded Senator Flanagan’s friendship and support for yeshivas over the many years of his public service, and his partnership with the yeshiva community.
Several speakers from the yeshiva community detailed how Senator Flanagan’s work affected them personally.
In his speech, Senator Flanagan said that the advocacy of Agudath Israel, yeshiva administrators, and parents are a key component in his recent successes. When asked in the question and answer session how useful Agudath Israel’s Missions to Albany are, he said, “I can’t overstate the value and importance of that… You have to keep our feet to the fire. Your continued advocacy makes all the difference in the world.”.
The relationship between Senator Flanagan and the yeshiva community goes back many years, beyond the two years he has served as Senate Majority Leader to his fourteen years in the State Senate and his five years as chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
The past year’s accomplishments for nonpublic schools across the state were prominently displayed in a ‘scorecard’ for the 2016 New York State budget. The list includes: $60 million in additional funding for CAP (the Comprehensive Attendance Policy), which will help greatly towards retiring the debt that the state owes nonpublic schools; current CAP funding of $69.8 million dollars, reflecting actual costs to nonpublic schools for taking attendance rather than an “efficiency” model far below those costs; $125 million re-appropriated to pay nonpublic schools for prior-year CAP claims; $10.5 million in additional funds for safety equipment for nonpublic schools; greater flexibility in the use of Safety Equipment Funds that may allow schools to hire security personnel; and the re-establishment of a dedicated office for nonpublic schools at the State Education Department.
The first speaker, Mr. Yehuda Zachter, a parent of students in Bnos Bais Yaakov in Far Rockaway, NY, said that it is a struggle for many yeshivas to balance the budget and give their children a good education while ensuring their safety. His yeshiva has been able to provide new security systems to protect their students due to recent legislation. “We are taking care of their education,” he said. “We thank you for helping us take care of their security.”
Mr. Sruli Orzel, the Chairman of the Board and President of the Yeshiva of Spring Valley, said that in the past, laying out the cost for Mandated Services, which the state is supposed to reimburse, made it difficult to balance the yeshiva’s budget. “The monies allocated this past year to help eradicate the state’s debt to nonpublic schools, has made a huge difference,” said Mr. Orzel.
Rabbi Ephraim Nierenberg, a parent of a special-needs child, praised Majority Leader Flanagan and his colleagues in the Senate – particularly Senator Simcha Felder – for their role in instigating major changes in the way New York City handles tuition reimbursement claims for children enrolled in nonpublic special education schools. “Very often, we knew that services were out there, but they were just out of reach. Now it’s less of a struggle,” he said. “Parents now breathe easier because of your efforts.”
Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Community Services, said that the struggle to represent and support nonpublic schools has recently become much more difficult, and there are now legislators who seem determined to cut all funding to nonpublic schools. In such a climate, Rabbi Lefkowitz said, good friends like Majority Leader Flanagan are even more important.
Chaskel Bennett, member of Agudath Israel’s Board of Trustees, said, “It is rare in politics to forge a relationship with someone who fearlessly fights for the causes and people they believe in, no matter the political costs. First as education committee chairman and now as Leader, John Flanagan has been our friend and ally showing a tenacity and loyalty rare in politics… Today we had the opportunity to thank the Leader and his colleagues in the Senate for their sensitivity and determination in protecting and defending the issues vitally important to our faith-based community.”