Dr. Allan Jacob is a doctor by training—a nephrologist who ran a company with dialysis centers in several states. He would volunteer for his local school, served as chairman of the board and gave a regular class to students. In 2010, Allan saw an unfamiliar influx of money on the latest school-budget report. When he asked the staff about the origin of those funds, they responded that the money came from some new state scholarship program. Allan didn’t simply move on. He wanted to know more.
What was this source of funding? And was there more? Allan immersed himself in obtaining a full education about this program, and he realized that the increase or decrease in the program was dependent on state elected officials. In other words, advocacy and politics would move the needle and could help his community. Allan was intrigued. He had never been heavily involved in politics or advocacy before, but if greater involvement meant helping his school and community, he was in.
Allan brought a small group of interested friends to Tallahassee, Fla., for the first time; learned which elected officials supported the program and which did not; and which claimed to support it but were actually working to end the program. He began to communicate this information to the entire community to educate them on the importance of the program and who was supporting or opposing it. Allan began impressing upon the community the importance of showing up to vote and being active in local politics.
He realized that to grow his work, he would need a larger coalition, and so he formed the Jewish Leadership Coalition. He believed that this work could be taken to the next level by building a more sophisticated organization. In conjunction with Steve Jacoby and Daniel Adler, they joined with the Orthodox Union to create Teach Florida, a single-issue lobbying organization for equitable government funding for nonpublic school students. As chairman of Teach Florida, Allan hired lobbyists, recruited a dynamic lay leadership executive team, and appointed an executive director and staff to oversee a complete transformation in how the community votes, shows up, advocates and speaks up for their kids and schools.
Last year, the Florida state scholarship program that Allan spent 13 years advocating for provided scholarships for nearly half of Florida’s nonpublic school children. Additionally, schools received security funding that Teach Florida helped push to protect children.
The story doesn’t end there. It’s just begun.
What Allan built had a tremendous ripple effect. More than 750 people joined a Teach Florida legislative breakfast this year with the Florida Speaker of the House, while 100 people flew to Tallahassee to join Allan to advocate. And nearly 4,000 petitioned their legislators.
It wasn’t just Allan anymore; he had sparked a movement, and the result was massive.
This week, Florida passed landmark legislation that will provide every nonpublic school student, regardless of their parent’s income, with a state scholarship equivalent to 100% of state funding accorded to a public-school student, which is estimated to be roughly $7,800 per child. This funding is a game-changer. It could help schools combat the national teacher shortage, improve overall education quality and increase access for families who struggle financially.
Parents have relief because of the work of Allan and those farsighted community members who joined with him. Many parents can now send their children to a Jewish school for the first time because Allan showed up and made his voice heard. Schools have seen their scholarship needs plummet due to Allan’s work. The tuition crisis is now being viewed in a different way from the past. Allan could have said he didn’t understand or like politics and punted the responsibility to others, but he chose not to. He could have said that advocacy would take too long and he wanted immediate success, but he chose not to. He could have listened to the skeptics who said that this was impossible so why try, he chose not to.
Allan understood that raising our voices in the political arena matters. Allan understood that without the strategic application of advocacy effort, his children and grandchildren would continue to bear the immense financial burden of a Jewish education. Allan understood that with a serious commitment of effort and time, he could change the world.
The lesson of Allan Jacob is a model for anyone who wants to make a difference in one of the longest and most difficult problems in our community: the tuition crisis. Why not New York? Why not New Jersey? Why not California? States around the country have asked Allan to share his vision and the work required. Upon hearing his vision, more people like him have stepped up and made an impact. Brooklyn heard from Allan, and hundreds of volunteers advanced the Teach NYS envisioned historic STEM reimbursement program for nonpublic school students. Nevada heard from Allen and launched its own Teach Nevada branch this year. Philadelphia heard from Allen and advanced major changes to its scholarship program.
One man’s story should inspire and motivate us. But a question remains: Will we put the time, work and effort to change the world as Allan—and those who have followed his lead—envisioned and executed?
Maury Litwack is the founder of Teach Coalition and the Orthodox Union’s managing director of Public Affairs.