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The School Aid Ruling-as Seen by the Day School Administrator

Fears for the future and renewed criticism of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York were expressed by leaders of three of the Hebrew day schools which may lose considerable sums if the state’s aid-to-private-school program is voided by Monday’s Supreme Court decision. The Court ruled 8-1, with Justice Byron R. White dissenting, that public aid to private schools for secular purposes constituted “excessive government entanglement with religion.” Rabbi Sholom Rephun of the Manhattan Day School, whose “very little government aid” totals $7-8,000 a year for textbooks and record-keeping, called the outlook “frightening.” He told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: “The problem is extremely severe. (Hebrew day) schools are struggling for a few cents more than ever before.” Thus far, he said, the New York Federation has not provided sufficient aid.

If the state’s school aid law is voided, Rabbi Rephun continued, aid to yeshivas would be “cut down at a time when costs go up,” posing “a very serious problem and threat” to the Manhattan Day School, which is “net a school for the rich.” Rabbi Rephun–whose present educational quarters recently suffered extensive vandalism, a year before a scheduled relocation–said he could understand the Supreme Court’s reasoning. The principle of church-state separation is an important one, he admitted–“but so is Jewish survival.” Thus, “we certainly would look for any kind of alleviation within the law.” But the rabbi added: “Anyone with a sound business mind would have said never to open day schools.”

Similarly, the principal of the Yeshiva High School of Queens said his school stood to lose $30,000 in administrative and registration aid next year if the state law was struck down. That would be an increase over this year’s $16,000 is aid, said Rabbi Simcha Teitelbaum. The seven-year-old institution, “completely independent” the past four years, headed into last fall with an $80,000 deficit. Even its fundraising dinners leave it $50,000 poorer, Rabbi Teitelbaum told the JTA. Meanwhile, the Queens Yeshiva’s student body has risen from 40 to 400, and of last fall’s 180 freshman applicants only 100 could be accepted. Non-scholarship students–some 35 percent of the total–pay the school $1,175 a year each, but it costs $1,400 to educate each one over that period. Rabbi Teitelbaum too is critical of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, pointing out that it allots $1 per yeshiva child per year. By contrast, the Federations in Chicago and Los Angeles contribute $250 and $125 per child, he said. The New York Federation has “completely ignored” the Hebrew day schools, Rabbi Teitelbaum charged. “They just don’t understand our situation,” he elaborated. “They claim that they understand it, but understanding it and paying for it are two different things.”

Rabbi Moshe Malinowitz, head of the Yeshiva of Forest Hills and president of the National Association of Hebrew Day School Administrators of America, sees the Supreme Court decision and its possible ramifications in New York State as a situation of “the gravest concern.” This year, he advised the JTA, “we began to stem the tide of rising costs at some of our schools, even with minimal state aid,” but without that aid “the spiral of rising costs would continue.” In that circumstance, he said, “Even the middle-class parent will be reduced to pauperhood of he wants to send the child to day school. He’ll face the unpleasant prospect of appearing before tuition committees in the quest for scholarships.” Rabbi Malinowitz commented that “we fail to understand why Federation of New York doesn’t follow the pattern of the rest of the country” and “subsidize directly” the yeshivas here. He also called on such organizations as the American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee to “use their influence with the very powerful forces they represent” and rally as much community support for the day schools as they do for fighting church-state abrogations.

A New York Federation spokesman reiterated that it is up to the Board of Jewish Education to determine the allotment of Federation moneys it receives. “There’s nothing more Federation can do,” he said. A spokesman for the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds recalled that the CJF board recently reached a “consensus on the urgent need” of the yeshivas and on the “dire financial circumstances” of “many” of them. While Federation aid to Jewish education has been “growing rapidly” the board noted, “Jewish education costs have been rising precipitously.” The CJF spokesman said that since “every local Federation is different,” the CJF cannot dictate an over-all funding policy. All it can do, he said, is “study the problem” and recommend action to the local Federations.

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