September 27, 2023
Can NJ Be the Next State for Real Tuition Relief?
It’s Not a Pipe Dream
A Conversation with Dr. Allan Jacob on Tuition Relief for Jewish Families
Did you know that Jewish parents in Florida get $7,800 per child, per year towards tuition?
Thanks to people like Dr. Allan Jacob, chairman of an advocacy group for private school funding, families in the Sunshine State don’t need to worry about tuition. But it didn’t happen overnight. For the past 13 years, Dr. Jacob and his team have been working to make tuition a thing of the past for the Jewish community.
We sat down with Dr. Jacob to hear more about how he changed the Jewish education system in Florida, and how we can do the same in New Jersey.
Dr. Jacob, what is your professional background?
I have a Master’s Degree in mental health and marital counseling and I’m a board-certified nephrologist. I also serve as the chairman of the Rabbinical Seminary of America (Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim) and the chairman of the Florida Advocacy Group.
I’ve always been very interested in Jewish education, and became involved in Yeshiva Toras Chaim Toras Emes and its board since its early days, when my children, and now my grandchildren, attended.
How did you get involved in the tuition issue?
It’s no secret that tuition bills eat a big portion of the frum family’s budget. As a board member at YTCTE, I saw parents struggling to meet tuition obligations and sacrificing a lot to give their children a Jewish education. At the same time, the school itself was always short on funds, unable to make necessary improvements to the building, or create new programs to benefit the children.
I thought about how public school students were getting their tuition funded by the government, while parents of private school students were paying for everything out of pocket. I decided that in a country like the US, this inequality cannot continue to exist.
My work began with a simple but significant goal—get tuition scholarships for private school students, just as they are available to those of public schools. As a country, we believe every family is entitled to educational opportunities and choices, regardless of religion, but the funds don’t reflect that.
What has been happening in Florida with tuition affordability?
The story really begins in 2010. I was doing research and connecting with policy makers, but I realized I needed a group of like-minded people to help. Six years later, under the parent organization Teach Coalition, we founded a group to advocate for more funding. Baruch Hashem, it has grown from a grassroots organization to a leader in school choice.
Today, we offer two primary scholarship programs:
- Private School Scholarships: For students K-12 in the amount of approximately $7,800 for nonpublic-school students attending an eligible private school.
- Unique Abilities Scholarship: For private school and homeschool students, ages 3-22, who have a qualifying disability in the amount of approximately $9,800.
How did you accomplish this?
Of course, this didn’t happen by itself. Our team worked hard to encourage people to vote in support of candidates who promoted school choice. Although it took time to get people to show up, the collective difference we made is nothing short of incredible.
Most people think only federal elections make a difference and that voting at the municipal level is a waste of their time. But it’s the state that makes education-related decisions and secures funding for schools. So, voting in those elections is crucial if we want to change things.
With our involvement and education, we upped voter turnout in Florida to eighty percent—with the Jewish community making up a huge portion of that number. On that note, Governor DeSantis’ first public appearance was at a Jewish school, because he recognized our voice as his winning vote.
What funding did private schools get before your work in Teach Florida and how has that changed over the years?
When we started out, Jewish schools in Florida were receiving a mere three million dollars per year. Fast forward to today, that number is projected to be around one hundred million this coming year. Today, every student in Florida—regardless of school affiliation—receives approximately $7,800 per year.It’s a remarkable transformation, and one that I believe has the potential to redefine Jewish education, not just in Florida, but across the nation.
How have these funds changed education?
Needless to say, when you put that kind of money into a community, it changes everything.Not only can schools pay teachers on time and operate more smoothly, they can focus on building new infrastructure and making educational improvements. It creates a more competitive educational environment, with schools constantly improving, new schools opening, and parents having more options than ever before.
How did this actually unfold?
In one sentence, we created a unified vote in support of a candidate who backs school choice.
In more than one sentence?
We began by creating political will. The people needed to understand that this is not about politics, this is about values, and that yes—every. Vote. Matters.
Once we got more people in the community registered to vote, we collected their data to establish a relationship with them. After analyzing each government representative based on what they could do for our community, we decided whom we will vote for in the upcoming election. We then personally sent them emails suggesting whom to vote for. That really helped us get a high voter turnout which drew a lot of attention from the state.
How did the change happen?
Over time, more and more people began showing up. When you as a community vote en masse, you create a block vote. We also organized the schools into a coalition for security funding. This required us to meet regularly with policy makers and educate them about our community and our needs.
Another thing we worked on was lobbying key people in the government to get their attention on this issue. We also made political donations to candidates who supported school choice.
Of course, this happened over a few years. The small wins became big wins. And the votes became a voice that changed the education landscape for all of us.
In New Jersey, how could we make this happen considering its political affiliation?
Look, people need to see beyond political divides. They need to understand that political affiliation is a matter of strategy, not religious ideology. As we say; “Our political party is Orthodox Judaism.”
Because school choice is arguably the most pressing political issue that affects our communities today. It doesn’t matter whether a candidate is Democratic or Republican; if they support school choice they should get our vote. It’s that simple.
In New Jersey, our community by and large supports Republican candidates, but we have to vote for the candidate who supports the needs of our community, even if that means choosing a Democrat. You’re not committed to your party; you’re committed to your community. If need be, you can change your political party every 30 days.
And of course, if your candidates produce, reward them at the polls. Show them you are involved. This will change everything.
Do you think our community can replicate Florida’s success here in New Jersey?
Absolutely. But the community must be involved.
If you have the usual low voter turnout, nothing will change. But if everyone understands that each vote can make a difference, things can happen. Community leadership should be doing their homework on each candidate—determining which candidates will address the community’s issues—and giving that information over to their members. If your community forms a block vote, you will send a powerful message to the government and can really do anything.
What message do you have for the New Jersey community and beyond?
By securing scholarships, you’re not just helping the community financially; you’re enhancing the Jewish education system and attracting more talent to become teachers.
In Florida, we have proven that change is possible.
I’ll tell you the truth; when I began, people said I was crazy. They said all my efforts wouldn’t make a dent. But they didn’t know the power of unity.
If you organize your community, create a block vote, and support candidates who prioritize school choice, you will effect change. It will take time and hard work, so you need to be patient—but if people show up, you will succeed.
And the work begins with your ballot.
I thought about how public school students were getting their tuition funded by the government, while parents of private school students were paying for everything out of pocket. I decided that in a country like the US, this inequality cannot continue to exist
When you put that kind of money into a community, it changes everything. It creates a more competitive educational environment, with schools constantly improving, new schools opening, and parents having more options than ever before
If you organize your community, create a block vote, and support candidates who prioritize school choice, you will effect change