New Jersey Jewish schools are stepping up their plea for state-paid security enhancements after a Pittsburgh congregation became the scene of what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.
Private institutions were left out of an $87 million school-security funding increase for the fiscal year that started July 1, according to Teach NJS, an affiliate of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America’s Teach Advocacy Network.
Legislation to give $11.3 million of additional taxpayer money to local districts for use by yeshivos and other parochial schools was introduced on Oct. 18. The Senate and Assembly education committees, which will consider the bill, have not yet scheduled meetings for November or December.
Public money for private-school security was signed into law in 2016 by then-Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who authorized spending of up to $75 per student for safety services and equipment. Public-school spending has reached more than $205 per pupil while the parochial counterpart has remained flat, according to Teach NJS.
In a letter to lawmakers last week, 50 Rabbis said the community “feels frustrated and betrayed.”
“Families in the Jewish community send their children to Jewish day schools in order for them to receive a religious education that aligns with their beliefs,” the Oct. 22 letter stated. “By under-funding non-public schools, the state is forcing them to choose between their children’s safety and their religion.”
The need for funding is more urgent in light of the Oct. 27 attack that left 11 people dead at Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh, said Josh Caplan, executive director of Teaneck-based Teach NJS. The Anti-Defamation League called the shooting, by truck driver Robert Bowers, the nation’s deadliest assault on Jews.
“Who is more important to protect than children?” Caplan, who is meeting with lawmakers this week, said in an interview. “We don’t want this to happen in New Jersey.”
More than 150,000 youth attend non-public schools, or about 10 percent of the K-12 population, according to Teach NJS.
Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who took office in January, said on Oct. 29 in Trenton that he was familiar with the funding proposal and will “look at that real hard with the legislature.”
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, at the same news conference, said New Jersey homeland security officials conduct free security analyses for houses of worship and other potential terrorism targets, and local law-enforcement has increased patrols in the wake of the Pittsburgh attack.