Forty-four years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a new rights movement is gathering steam as ethnic groups are increasingly joining forces to press for school choice. Jewish groups have taken a prominent role in the effort.
The Civil Rights Act of Equal Educational Opportunity (CRA of EEO) is a proposal for a federal bill to establish freedom for all parents to choose their child’s school, public or non-public.
Though federal legislators have yet to draft such a bill, parents and community leaders are working together to inform the public that attending the school the government chooses for children doesn’t mean a quality education will be provided.
Forced Into Public Schools
School choice has become an issue among Jewish communities throughout New York and New Jersey for two reasons. Private schools in both states have been unable to keep tuition costs low enough to keep student bodies growing, causing many to close, and Jewish families tend to emphasize the importance of education.
As a result of the closings, many Jewish families are facing the reality that their only option is to send their children to neighborhood public schools, which do not offer the same standards of achievement and discipline as the private schools they prefer.
Like other minority groups, Jewish communities have cherished the rights codified in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The idea of allowing inner-city children the same opportunities as those in suburban schools has stirred up strong emotions.
“Americans insist on equality of opportunity in housing, employment, and public accommodations, yet we trample upon this right where it hurts us most—the raising and nurturing of our children,” said Rabbi Israel Teitelbaum, cofounder of Parents for Free Choice in Education, a nonprofit grassroots group based in Morristown, New Jersey that advocates giving all parents nationwide the ability to choose their children’s schools.
“This is not just a fight for school choice at just the state level, but ultimately at the federal level,” Teitelbaum said.
In order to advance Teitelbaum’s efforts in New York, Yosef Hayon, a former Jewish private school teacher now working for the Sephardic Voters League in New York City, is urging federal legislators to push for a federal parental choice bill as well.
“Every parent, every teacher, and every staff member who works at a private school supports school choice,” said Hayon.
Hayon’s work with the Sephardic Voters League has led more than 30 rabbis in the New York metro area to declare their support for a federal school choice initiative. Approximately 2,000 Jewish families in New York City send their children to private schools.
“These families are paying $7,000 for property taxes and then $7,000 for tuition,” Hayon said. “[These] families end up paying for tuition twice in our current system.”
Numerous organizations, including the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, N’shei Chabad, New Jersey Family Policy Council, and SchoolChoiceVoter.org, have announced their support for a federal school choice bill.
Evelyn B. Stacey ([email protected]) is a research associate in education studies at the Pacific Research Institute, a policy research group in California.