Op-Ed: Major victories in this year’s state budget for nonpublic school students

School empty classroom no childrens when COVID-19 disease outbreak and closed quarantine, no pupils in school and student study at home. Education learning problem in future and new normal life
The state budget included wins for nonpublic school students, writes Maury Litwack of the Teach Coalition.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

At Teach Coalition, we are committed to the simple idea that students at nonpublic schools should be treated fairly. This year, we delivered again on that fundamental mission. 

Thanks to our efforts, along with the advocacy of our coalition partners and grassroots supporters, we helped secure an unprecedented $470 million in vital funding in the New York State budget for nonpublic schools, representing an $88 million increase from the previous year’s allocation. These investments, which include a critical increase from $45 million to $70 million in security funding for nonpublic schools, will directly benefit hundreds of thousands of students attending religious and independent schools. 

This is a major victory for our students at a crucial time. Unfortunately, we have seen too many instances of hate, specifically those directed at Jewish and Muslim students. The statistics paint a grim picture: There was a nearly 90% increase in hate crimes statewide between 2020 and 2022. In New York City alone, hate crimes against Jews and Muslims have increased by 38 percent between January and the end of March of this year compared to the same time period in 2023.

That’s why one of our key priorities this past year was ensuring every student has a safe learning environment. According to recent data, enrollment at yeshivas and Jewish day schools alone in New York state grew by 4,181 students in 2023, well above the 23-year average of 3,465 students. These schools now enroll 43.8% of all nonpublic school students in New York. 

Parents concerned about their children’s safety were forced to pay out of pocket for needed resources like security guards – with Jewish day schools, on average, having to spend an additional 47% on security since Oct.7th. Thankfully, we assembled a broad coalition of faith leaders, educators, and students to successfully advocate to expand the Nonpublic School Safety Equipment (NPSE) program, which reimburses schools for security expenses.  

In the months ahead, we will be directly engaging nonpublic schools to help them navigate the allocation process and maximize this funding. It’s critical that we take advantage of every dollar, especially at a time of heightened anxiety among parents, students, and faculty members.  

However, it’s not just about keeping students safe – it’s about giving them access to the full array of educational offerings that public school students have. This year’s budget also created a first-of-its-kind Arts and Music teacher reimbursement program, funded at $5 million. This program provides funding for eligible arts and music teachers in nonpublic schools – mirroring New York’s historic STEM teacher reimbursement program, which similarly started at $5 million in 2017and has grown to $75.5 million in this year’s budget.  

The state funding will also help alleviate some of these costs through reimbursements for state-mandated services like testing, record-keeping, and attendance tracking. This investment recognizes the public benefit of nonpublic schools and their role in educating New York’s future leaders and workforce. 

These victories are a testament to the power of grassroots advocacy and the importance of a vibrant civil society. When communities organize, make their voices heard, and engage in the democratic process, real and meaningful change can occur. 

As we celebrate this milestone achievement, we must also look ahead and continue the fight to secure equitable funding and support for all educational options in New York. Every child deserves access to a safe, quality education that meets their unique needs and aligns with their family’s values. 

This year’s state budget allocation is a significant step in the right direction, but there is still more work to be done, and we intend to advocate aggressively for additional funds next year. Teach Coalition and its allies must remain vigilant and continue to advocate for policies that empower families, promote educational opportunities for all our children.  

Litwack is Founder and CEO of the Teach Coalition.