Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Another Jewish Charter School And The Effects It May Have

The Jewish Voice And Opinion has an article in its May issue (PDF) about the proposed school, tentatively named The Englewood Hebrew Language and Culture Charter School, and slated to open in 2009--subject to approval by the State of NJ School Board.

Because of the nature of charter schools, some see them as the answer to how to give children a Jewish education with the enormous costs that are associated with it. According to the article:
Because they are public schools, charter schools are not allowed to charge tuition. They receive a little over $10,000 per student each year from a mixture of state and local funds, which represents 90 percent of what students at regular public schools cost taxpayers.

In addition, charter schools, once they are approved, receive $450,000 in federal seed money, designed to help the school’s parents find a building and pay for materials.

As non-profit corporations, the schools are entitled to raise money and accept donations.
The problem of course is that since charter schools are public schools, they cannot advocate religion and religious practices. So what will the school teach?
“Following the rules of NJ charter schools, we will aggressively teach Hebrew as a language, Hebrew literature, and cultural material, such as Israel’s geography and history, Israeli dancing, and a major focus on the Holocaust and genocide studies. We have no intention of crossing any red lines,” said [founder] Mr. Bachrach.
While the school is not going to be suitable for parents who want a Yeshiva education for their children, on the other hand as a public school, it must be open to anyone who wants to attend--regardless of whether they are Jewish or not.

And non-Jews are already showing interest in sending their children to the new school:
“Their reasons range from wanting their children prepared for a world that extends beyond their immediate culture, to recognizing that Israel, as one of America’s strongest allies and leading trade partners, offers great opportunities to those who speak Hebrew,” he [Bachrach] said.

One parent said she wanted her child to be immersed in one of “the few great classical languages and cultures.” “Hebrew has served as the foundation for the modern world. The three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all trace their roots to the ancient Hebrews,” she said.
For those who still want a stronger Jewish education than what the proposed school will be allowed to provide, there are workarounds:
For example, one of the properties they are investigating abuts on the driveway of Englewood’s Yeshiva Ohr Simcha, a high school which offers a slew of religious programming open to the community. Presumably, parents at the new charter school could arrange to hold religious services and classes at the yeshiva outside of school hours.

At Ben Gamla in Florida, the school’s facilities are rented to religious organizations, such as the Orthodox Union’s NCSY, after the regular school day is completed.
In other words, these new Jewish charter schools may develop into a real option even for Orthodox families who are looking at these schools as a component in a long range plan for providing a Yeshiva education for their children:
Some observant-Jewish parents say the new school would enable them to save money on their children’s elementary education, freeing up funds for religious high schools and college.

“If my children went to regular public school, they wouldn’t be prepared for yeshiva high school. This way, they will be, especially with added private religious classes,” said one of the parents.
One possible effect of the these schools--not covered by the article--may be the negative effect they will have on Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues whose religious schools are already being depleted by competition from Chabad schools which are making inroads. After all, why pay for religious education when you can get a higher quality Jewish education for free.

Jewish charter schools may not be the answer to how best to deal with the high cost of a good Yeshiva education, but it may be in the process of developing into one of the tools for dealing with it--strengthening Orthodox Judaism even as it weakens other denominations.

For more information on the proposed new charter school, Mr. Raphael Bachrach can be
reached at raphael@raphaelbachrach.com

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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