A couple of months ago, Senator Chuck Schumer held a Zoom meeting with Jewish community leaders and activists outlining his role as the incoming Senate Majority Leader, and the position’s impact on funding Jewish institutions. This week, the self-described “Shomer Israel” delivered results, inserting $2.75 billion in support in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
The allocation passed, over the objection of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, exceeding the amount that her chamber would have allowed by nearly 12 times.
“In emergency contexts, whether they’re hurricanes, earthquakes, or global pandemics, those are situations where we need to all be in this together,” OU executive director Nathan Diament said in an interview with The New York Times. “Those are exceptional situations, and that’s how they should be treated.”
He noted that ten percent of students across the country attend nonpublic schools, and they’ve experienced the same impact from the pandemic as their public school counterparts. From the onset of the pandemic a year ago, yeshivos sought to reopen safely by disinfecting their facilities, installing partitions, and testing people for the virus, holding back tuition increases while continuing to provide classes and services for students virtually and in person.
“Our schools, no less than their public school counterparts, have faced enormous challenges over the past year and are in desperate need of this vital aid,” said Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Government Affairs in Washington. “We are enormously grateful to Senator Schumer for his sensitivity to these concerns and for courageously standing up to help address them.”
The funding has a surprise supporter in Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the union representing public school educators. In the past, she opposed similar funding proposals from President Donald Trump and his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, arguing that this would undercut aid meant for public schools. This time, she appears to recognize that all children need support to get back on track in their learning.
“All of our children need to survive, and need to recover post-COVID, and it would be a shanda if we didn’t actually provide the emotional support and nonreligious supports that all of our children need right now and in the aftermath of this emergency,” she said in an interview with The New York Times.
“Make no mistake: This bill provides generous funding for public schools,” a spokesman for Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “But there are also many private schools that serve large percentages of low-income and disadvantaged students who also need relief from the COVID crisis.”
By Sergey Kadinsky