WASHINGTON (JTA) — Two Orthodox Jewish groups criticized the final version of the economic stimulus bill for excluding non-public schools from obtaining funds for "green" modernization of their facilities.
The Orthodox Union said the legislation allows states to use a portion of the "state stabilization fund" for such school projects, but specifically states that religious and other non-public schools cannot receive federal dollars for similar construction projects.
"We are greatly disappointed that in these early days of the new Congress and Obama Administration, a choice has been made to ignore the tradition of including non-public schools in federal education programs on an equitable basis," said O.U. public policy director Nathan Diament in a statement. "This decision is at odds with the fine outreach to faith communities Democrats have engaged in of late, and odds with President Obama’s call that the stimulus legislation shouldn’t be shaped by ideological factors, but by ‘what works.’ For all these reasons, we are deeply disappointed in the bill’s exclusion of faith- and other nonpublic schools from its program."
Agudath Israel of America also was disappointed that non-public elementary and secondary schools could not receive funding for "green" construction in the legislation but said post-secondary schools, such as yeshivot, may be able to benefit from the program because language prohibiting "schools of divinity" from the program was eliminated from the bill.
The O.U., Agudah and other advocates had been working to include non-public elementary and secondardy schools in the measure.
Such governement aid to non-public schools would not have been unprecedented — non-public schools damaged by Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters have received aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The O.U. noted that non-public schools save U.S. public school systems $48 billion annually,