(October 30, 2018 / JNS) For millennia, humanity has struggled under brutal and oppressive governments. Our community has its own unique history—one that led us to the shores of America and the great experiment in constitutional democracy that we all enjoy.
Voting has been an essential part of our national fabric, and the fight to ensure that all citizens have the same rights when it comes to voting has been a continuous theme in our history. The great bounty and opportunity that we enjoy in our nation is built on the right to vote, which is why it is so tragic that so many people in our community do not exercise this right.
Our community must reassess its relationship to voting. It is both a tremendous privilege of living in this country, and it impacts our daily lives—from infrastructure, to public safety to education. Voting is our opportunity to show our elected officials what matters most to us, and it is the single most important tool that we have on a mass scale to work on the day-school tuition crisis. By voting, we are showing candidates that our children’s security and education is a paramount issue for our community. That’s the vehicle we have to tell them that STEM education, free kosher lunch in school, money to secure our schools and other issues is the way to secure our interest in their candidacy. In fact, that is also the only way to fix the tuition crisis plaguing our community: to get government funding into our day schools and yeshivahs to lessen the financial burden on our families.
We have a tendency to focus on presidential campaigns and ignore down-ballot races such as state and local elections. This must end. When we fail to vote, we miss an opportunity to signal our communal priorities to elected officials and candidates at every level. We have so much more influence and power when we turn out to vote in every election—from the largest to the smallest.
There is an old saying in politics that elections have consequences. When our community fails to vote in every election, we hurt our cause and keep tuition high. When we fail to vote, even fail to register to vote, we perpetuate the tuition crisis. On the other hand, when we vote (in every election, every year), we send a clear message—that our community votes without fail, and that we vote based on the No. 1 policy issue impacting us all: tuition.
Voting has a direct impact on the budget priorities in every town, city and state in the nation. Government funding is the only form of funding that our schools receive that does not originate in our community.
Of course, it’s not through voting alone that we will get where we need to be.
After we vote, we need to stay engaged by showing up en masse in our state houses and work with our elected officials to address this issue. We can’t simultaneously complain about the crushing burden of day-school tuition when we cannot even engage with our elected officials. We need to continue to organize and mobilize Jewish parents. We can and must ensure that every single elected official who represents us understands that we are saving our state billions of dollars each year by educating our students in nonpublic schools, and we can and must ensure that these politicians support our cause.
Through our work at Teach Advocacy Network, we are making inroads. In New York, our schools will receive the first-ever funding for qualified science and math teachers this year—something that will invariably improve the education our students receive and better prepare them for the workforce. This funding comes as a result of a campaign that Teach NYS launched for STEM funding from the state capital of Albany. Across the country, scholarship tax credits continue to provide a lifeline to thousands of parents of students in our schools, and in many states, security funding for our schools continues to rise.
As the cost of living keeps rising, so do the costs of educating our students. The time for inaction is over. We need mass mobilization of every synagogue, school and PTA. We must channel the WhatsApp conversations, the Shabbat-dinner arguments and the complaints into positive change. When we unite and focus on what is achievable, our community will see tremendous returns.
The reality is simple. To fix the day-school and yeshivah tuition crisis in America, our community must head to the polls in November and every election afterwards, and show our politicians what matters most to us. Our community can do this, but we need your involvement. And we need it now.
Jake Adler is the policy director of Teach NYS, a division of the Orthodox Union’s Teach Advocacy Network that operates in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida and California. He spearheaded the effort to create a first in the nation program to begin reimbursing nonpublic schools for the costs of qualified STEM instructors. Follow him on Twitter at @JakeAAdler.