Lakewood Briefs

District Passes Budget, but Funding Sources Remain Unknown

Lakewood’s school board has ratified a budget for the coming year, but as the Governor signed off on the state’s funding bill, it remained unclear whether money to fund the public-school district’s programs would be available.

For years the district has suffered from increasing deficits, largely as a result of the failure of the state’s funding formula to account for expenses incurred for funding and servicing mandated services to the town’s large private school community. In the past, these gaps have been closed by loans from the Department of Education which have allowed for programming to continue and for staff levels to be maintained. This year, Governor Phil Murphy included $30 million in additional funds to the district, yet that money was struck by legislators and the budget has now been signed without it.

The funding package had also included $6 million to fund the LSTA, which supports transportation for private school students.

Talks are on-going as to how or if funding will still be provided be the state in some other manner. The budget was passed by the board on condition that money is delivered by Trenton. Should that fail to materialize, it will become null and void.

Sen. Singer Co-Sponsors Bi-Partisan Bill to Combat Anti-Semitism

State Senator Robert Singer (R-Ocean) and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D- Gloucester) have introduced a bill that would explicitly prohibit discriminatory anti-Semitic acts in state public schools and at institutions of higher learning.

Current New Jersey law forbids discrimination based on several factors including “creed,” which is commonly used to cover religion. Amid rising anti-Semitic incidents in the state, legislators have decided to clarify the matter in the hopes of better arming administrators and others in a position to fight rhetoric and acts that target Jews.

“Anti-Semitism is a cancer on society and it is growing in New Jersey. By passing this bill, we are taking action to stamp out this disease, before it’s too late,” said Senator Singer.

According to the most recent data, New Jersey ranked third in anti-Semitic incidents last year behind New York and California. Not surprisingly, the three states have the largest populations of Jews in the country.

The bill forbids administrators from denying Jews entry to an institution based on their religion as well as policies and practices motivated by anti-Semitism and deems them the same as other acts of discrimination.

Rep. Smith Comments on International Religious Freedom Report

Rep. Chris Smith welcomed the release of the State Department’s annual report on International Religious Freedom, which tracks the ability of people to observe their faiths in nations around the world.

As ranking member of the House of Representative’s Subcommittee on Global Human Rights and Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, he has closely studied the reports for many years. It was mandated by the 2016, International Religious Freedom Act, authored by Rep. Smith (R-NJ).

“I welcome the 2018 report’s release and thank Ambassador Sam Brownback for a comprehensive accounting of what people of faith suffer at the hands of governments around the world,” he said. “This data should be cited over and over again as we work to push governments to respect the rights of their own people instead of persecuting citizens because of their religious beliefs…Religious freedom is under attack around the world. There should be no surprise that the worst violators of religious freedom are also the biggest challenges to the United States and democracy,” Smith said. “In our own Constitution, the Bill of Rights lists freedom of religion as the ‘first freedom’ in the First Amendment. Freedom of religion is a tenet of freedom anywhere.”

The Congressman, who is actively involved in religious freedom issues around the globe offered comments on several of the key state offenders including China, Vietnam, Syria, and Iran.

In Iran, he noted, the government’s continual harassment of minority religions including, Christians and Sunni Muslims.

“Once again, the Iranian government is among the worst offenders in the world, denying its own citizens the basic right to practice their religious beliefs,” said Rep. Smith. “Human rights groups and Christian organizations report that Iranian authorities arrested Christians, including those worshipping in private homes, on charges of supporting and accepting assistance from ‘enemy’ countries. The report states that authorities subjected many arrested Christians to extreme physical and psychological abuse, included beatings and solitary confinement.”