Advocates for the Orthodox community welcomed the release of $15 million to non-public schools in New York as part of the state’s Safety Equipment Grant Program. The allocation more than triples the original amount and significantly expands the list of items for which schools can use the funding.
The increase was included in this year’s budget released in January, but funds have just been made available this week, along with guidance as to how schools can apply for and use grant money.
“The safety and security of a yeshivah’s students and staff are of paramount concern to principals, executive directors and parents alike,” said Mrs. Deborah Zachai, director of education affairs for Agudath Israel of America. “We place our trust in Hashem and Hashem alone, but these additional funds and newly allowable items are part of our necessary hishtadlus to ensure the health and safety of our children where they spend the majority of their day.”
The program, which was added to the budget in 2013, originally offered reimbursements for security equipment such as dead bolts and reinforced glass. The state will now provide funding for a more diverse list of items, including security guards, safety assessments, and emergency response training for staff. Additionally, it has expanded to cover some equipment relevant to environmental/health needs and fire safety.
“We purchased the AED [defibrillator] and it was quite expensive, and we just missed the threshold for NYC City Council Security Guards, so this funding could spell the difference between having and not having these vital guards on our premises,” said Rabbi Moshe Goodman, administrator of Yeshivas Siach Yitzchok of Far Rockaway.
Mrs. Zachai added that the addition of security funding as a yearly item to New Jersey’s state budget two years ago was a key in encouraging New York lawmakers to take additional action to protect non-public school students.
Several advocate groups for the Jewish community were heavily involved in lobbying efforts for the increases and expansion of categories. Security needs for Jewish institutions gained additional attention amidst the wave of JCC bomb threats and other highly publicized acts of anti-Semitism.
“You never want these stories happening, but what the media pays attention to plays an important role in shaping the consciousness of policy makers,” said Jake Adler, the Orthodox Union’s New York State policy director.
Mr. Adler added that while changes rarely occur between the finalization of the budget and the release of funds, the state’s move gives advocacy groups and schools an additional level of relief.
“There have been occasions where the money was allotted and for one reason or another it never came down,” he said. “It’s gratifying that the governor and legislators have come around to agreeing that it’s important to put in money to doing what we can to keep kids in all types of schools safe.”