Teach NYS and Elected Officials Call For UPK Legislation to Include Private and Faith-Based Schools

Standing on the steps of City Hall, OU Advocacy-Teach NYS, together with a group of elected officials and leaders from faith-based schools, called for the specific inclusion of private and faith-based schools in any universal pre-k (UPK) legislation. Both Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have proposed initiatives for UPK, but neither proposal contains specific language including non-public schools.

“OU Advocacy-Teach NYS supports both UPK initiatives and is not taking sides between the governor’s proposal and the mayor’s proposal. Our primary concern is to ensure that any legislation that passes include all private and faith-based schools as well as public schools,” said Jeff Leb, New York director of political affairs for the Orthodox Union and director of OU Advocacy-Teach NYS.

Pre-kindergarten is recognized as an important factor in creating an early atmosphere of learning for children and for giving children a “leg up” in their education. As such, OU Advocacy-Teach NYS urges legislators to recognize that all children deserve the “leg up” that pre-kindergarten provides, regardless of whether they attend public, private or faith-based school.

Council Member Mark Levine said, “We want UPK to truly be universal and be completely inclusive, reaching the broadest swath of 4-year olds possible. Students engaged in secular studies at non-public schools absolutely deserve to be part of this important initiative.”

“We know that children who go to pre-K are more likely to be successful—in school and in life,” said Council Member David Greenfield. “It doesn’t matter if a child goes to public school or non-public school—everyone must have access to UPK. Today we are raising the flag and calling for this legislation to include public and non-public schools alike,” Greenfield said.

“It is imperative that parochial schools and yeshivas have equal opportunity to get UPK,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, adding that, in his district, a number of schools already have experience running pre-K programs.

“In the interest of parity, and to ensure that this early education is available to all children, it is crucial that the text of any UPK legislation clearly delineates that all schools, public or non-public, have access to UPK programs, if desired. Furthermore, the existing structure of the full-day UPK program must be modified in order to provide a small amount of flexibility for faith-based schools that have religious observances,” added Leb.

Additional City Council Members who joined OU Advocacy-Teach NYS in calling for UPK legislation to include private and faith-based schools were Andrew Cohen, Rory Lancman and Alan Maisel. Representatives from Jewish day schools and yeshivas from throughout New York State also participated, including RJJ Yeshiva of Staten Island, Yeshiva Darchei Torah of Far Rockaway, Yeshiva of Flatbush, Bais Yaakov Adas Yereim of Brooklyn, Bobover Yeshiva of Brooklyn and the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach.

OU Advocacy-Teach NYS has pledged to work with both state and city legislators to create a UPK program that is inclusive of all school-aged children and make the program compatible with the religious observances of faith-based schools.