A bill that would temporarily double funding for private school security was unanimously passed by both houses of the state legislature. Its passage is a major step towards permanently establishing higher levels of financing for the security needs of yeshivos and other non-public schools in the state.
Since 2015, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic) has made a budget allocation for security funding for private schools. The first year it was set at $25 per student and has been steadily raised since then, now standing at $75.
In the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting, Assemblyman Schaer and several colleagues in the Assembly and Senate introduced a bill that would deliver increased funding through a supplemental allotment of $11.3 million outside of the regular budget framework.
Amid heightened sensitivity to rising anti-Semitism and other violent threats facing schools in general, the bill, which would raise the funding to $150 per student until the next budget is passed, picked up traction among legislators.
“What’s important about this is not only the dollar amount, but the budget is carefully crafted and there are very few funds available after it’s done. The fact that the legislature was willing to make this allocation during the year is extraordinary,” Assemblyman Schaer told Hamodia. “Funds were very tight, and it’s extremely unusual for such an allocation to be made, which makes us double and triply grateful that it passed.”
Even though nearly all funding is typically awarded through the budget process, which takes place in early summer, Assemblyman Schaer and advocates for private schools made a strong case that financing to better secure schools could not wait until the coming year’s budget to go into effect.
Rabbi Avi Schnall, director of Agudath Israel of America’s New Jersey office, who was closely involved in lobbying efforts, praised the bill’s passage and urged citizens to press the governor to sign it.
“Our schools need this, and more importantly, our children need this,” said Rabbi Schnall. “We ask every New Jersey resident to contact Governor Murphy and urge him to sign this bill into law so that non-public-school children can focus on broadening their educational horizons without having to fear for their safety.”
Despite wide sympathy for the need to better secure schools amid increasing trends of violent assaults and incidents targeting Jews, high expenditures under Governor Phil Murphy’s administration meant that finding money to cover the expense was not simple, and instead was met with skepticism by many of New Jersey’s elected officials.
Eventually the bill garnered several sponsors, including Assemblymembers Lisa Swain and Christopher Tully, both Democrats representing Bergen County, and Democratic Senators Paul Sarlo (Bergen/Passaic), Vin Gopal (Monmouth) and Joseph Lagana (Bergen/Passaic), and built up wide support, which in turn led to its unanimous approval.
Even though the current bill serves as a bridge between budgets, the approval of the legislature makes it highly likely that the increased amount will make it into the coming year’s regular allocation.
Monies come from the general fund within the Department of Education for security services and is paid directly to private schools. The schools can use funds for any security-related expenses, including cameras, buzzer entrance systems and live security guards.
Assemblyman Schaer said that, while he is grateful for the increased allocation, he still hopes to have non-public school security added as a permanent budget item, which would put an end to the annual haggling that has taken place during budget negotiations over the last three years. Moreover, Schaer intends to push for the allocation amount to be raised to $205 per student, equal to the sum spent on public-school pupils.
“The bottom line is that there should be no differentiation where a child goes to school when it comes to security,” he said. “We are talking about the sanctity of human life, and the very first priority of government is, or at least should be, to protect all of its citizens.”