Friday, March 26, 2010

Another 'Win' for Rabbi Kalish

I’ve got to hand it to Rabbi Yehiel Kalish, Agudath Israel's national director of government affairs.

The Illinois State Senate has just passed a bill that will allow vouchers for children attending schools in my state. And I’m absolutely certain Rabbi Kalish was a major part of that.

It has not passed the Illinois house of representatives yet but it is a major step in that direction. I don’t know the details of the bill but in theory a voucher will be issued to students to be able to attend the school of their choice, instead of being forced by the state to attend the local public school.

In theory that choice will not be limited to other public schools but private and religious schools as well. I do not pretend to know how - or even whether - the constitutional ‘church-state’ problems were solved. But it is definitely a step in the right direction. Vouchers are currently operational in other states. And I understand they are very successful.

I also don’t know if these vouchers will cover entire tuition bills or only portions of them but they will definitely help in a major financial way. Schools will have a new source of income and parents will be relieved of the oppressive tuition bills they now pay - at least in substantial part. An article in VIN reports:

"The highest-quality research is clear on two points," said Collin Hitt, Director of Education Policy for the Illinois Policy Institute. "School vouchers improve education for students who use them, and the resulting competition improves the performance of surrounding public schools. This is bold policy, but it can change the course of education in Chicago. If the Illinois House passes this legislation, families will have a better choice of schools, public schools will compete for students and improve. This can all be accomplished at no additional cost to taxpayers or public education."

Indeed. As Mr. Hitt said - it can change the course of education in Chicago. What’s nice about this is that it has bi-partisan support. It is a win-win for everybody, the parents; the schools - both private and public –and the general public welfare since better educations will result in more productive citizens. And it won’t cost the taxpayer a dime - apparently.

If the voucher program is passed, and eventually extends to all children (as it should - why not allow school choice to all parents) Jewish families will finally get what every other American citizen has been getting since the advent of free mass public education - a free (or at least a greatly reduced in cost) education for their children.

Certainly parochial school parents who pay the same property taxes that public school parents do - deserve to choose the type of education for their children thats suits them best. They will be able to choose a Jewish one which will not break their backs financially. This will also encourage wavering parents who have resisted giving their children a formal Jewish education because they fear the cost – to send their children to Jewish day schools.

Like I said it's win-win. I see absolutely no downside here – except for schools that aren’t producing and teachers who aren’t really teaching. Those schools should not be open and those teachers should not be ‘teaching’.

It is not a reality yet. But maybe – just maybe - it is coming.

My hat is off to Rabbi Kalish. I don’t know exactly what part he had in this but I’m sure it was substantial. I know he works very hard lobbying the state legislature and has made many friends and allies there. He has also worked with Christian and Catholic lobbyists on common goals - like voucher programs - and has endeared himself to them.

He is one of the hardest working people I know and has had many successes benefiting the Jewish community – especially in easing the financial burden. Getting free bus service is one such example.

This is Agudah’s most important function. They are perhaps the most effective Orthodox advocacy organization in America. They know how to get things done. And Rabbi Yehiel Kalish is no small part of that.

How far he has come since the time I first met him as a member of the Hebrew Theological College Beis HaMedresh! He remains a loyal alumnus there and an adherent of their Hashkafos. Which are not necessarily identical with those of Agudah. It is to Agudah’s credit that they hired him anyway and I’m sure they’re not sorry. He started out as the executive director of Agudah of the Midwest and has risen to become a one of its national leaders working under Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, its executive director.

Thank you Yehiel. I’m proud to say I know you.

Updated ( 3/27/10 9:18PM - CDT)