By Aliza Warshavchik
When New York State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan entered the gymnasium at Hebrew Academy of Five Towns and Rockaway on Friday, June 2, he was greeted by a lively crowd of 400, waving colorful thank-you signs.
As majority leader, the Republican senator is the most powerful senator in Albany, and plays a critical role in moving bills through the sometimes cumbersome legislative process. This year’s budget victory for nonpublic schools is due, in large part, to Flanagan’s support and leadership.
In April, the New York legislature passed and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a budget for 2017—2018 that allocates nearly $300 million to nonpublic schools, like HAFTR. The money includes funding for state-mandated services, security, technology, and a historic STEM program that begins to reimburse schools for math and science teachers.
Jewish schools like HAFTR contend that this state funding makes a tremendous difference.
“Hiring quality math and science teachers is a huge expense for nonpublic schools, especially Jewish parochial schools that offer a dual curriculum,” said Cal Nathan, a HAFTR board member. “New York government has a vested interest in making sure all of our children have the education and tools they need to be competitive and succeed–no matter what kind of school they attend. The new STEM program has the potential to be a major game-changer for the Jewish community.”
The thank-you rally in Lawrence was arranged by the Orthodox Union’s Teach NYS, an advocacy organization for nonpublic-school education. Teach NYS works with legislators in Albany to push for increased funding for nonpublic schools. Since its inception in 2013, Teach NYS has increased education funding for nonpublic schools by $450 million.
This year, Teach NYS made the STEM program a major priority in this year’s budget, bringing a group of 600-plus students, teachers, and lay leaders to Albany in March to lobby legislators for STEM funding.
“We are very proud of the success we had in Albany this year, but we could not have done it without Leader Flanagan’s leadership and the grassroots support in Jewish schools across New York,” said Jake Adler, director of government affairs for Teach NYS. “We have worked consistently to build relationships between legislators and members of the Jewish community, including schools. It’s very important to bring the legislators to the schools so they can see what a difference their support makes for thousands of children.”
Flanagan is no stranger to Long Island or the nonpublic school community. Born in West Islip, NY, and a product of parochial day school himself, Flanagan now represents District 2 which includes parts of Long Island’s Suffolk County.
During his 30 years in the New York legislature, Flanagan has made education one of his key issues and developed strong relationships with New York’s Jewish communities.
In his speech to the students, Flanagan emphasized the importance of respecting parents’ choice to send their children to Jewish schools and making sure all children have the same educational opportunities:
“Our primary obligation in the State of New York is public and nonpublic education. As a father of three children, I care very deeply about the quality, opportunity, and access for all kids for all kinds of different faiths.
“I’m so proud of the work we did in the legislature this year to provide funding for nonpublic schools like HAFTR, including the historic STEM program to help schools hire quality math and science teachers.”
Flanagan also gave the young students a crash course in the inner workings of state government, engaging the students in a model legislative session. Splitting the gym into the New York Assembly and the New York Senate, he asked the budding politicos to advocate on behalf of proposed legislation. The most important part of a legislator’s job, he stressed, “is that I have to listen,” and he urged the students to do the same.
“We are grateful to Leader Flanagan for all his support and for taking the time to visit HAFTR,” added Cal Nathan. “In addition to his critical support in Albany, his visit is an important educational opportunity for our students about the legislative process and the importance of getting involved in public policy.”Â