By Judith Dinowitz
Nonpublic schools across New York State welcomed news that the New York State Education Department (NYSED) has just begun invoicing $17 million in outstanding Comprehensive Attendance Policy (CAP) reimbursement.
CAP is an important component of the Mandated Services program, a program which reimburses nonpublic schools for the cost of certain government mandated school functions. Under CAP, NYS schools take attendance multiple times a day, and follow up on poor attendance patterns.
The supportive logic marshaled by Rabbi Moshe Sherer, late president of Agudath Israel of America, integral to the enactment of the Mandated Services law over 40 years ago, was simple yet powerful. While the government may hesitate to directly fund a sectarian educational institution, there is no constitutional or cogent argument against NYS directly reimbursing a nonpublic school for certain nonsectarian requirements NYS itself had mandated.
But for more than a decade, Agudath Israel and other nonpublic school groups had argued that CAP reimbursements were not made at levels felt equitable. In fact, after years of advocacy, it became clear that, due to budget shortfalls and the use of a flawed formula to calculate CAP reimbursement, the state accumulated a substantial debt to nonpublic schools.
Over the next few weeks, nonpublic schools will be receiving $17 million, covering CAP expenses incurred during the 2005-2006 school year. This payment is the first of several coming in the 2016-17 school year and part of the $250 million appropriation enacted in June 2015 to pay down the debt to nonpublic schools. Schools received $125 million in the 2015-16 school year, and officials at the SED have informed Agudath Israel that they hope to pay the remainder of the second $125 million payment to nonpublic schools by April 2017 (fiscal year end).
Retiring the CAP debt to nonpublic schools has been a longstanding legislative priority for Agudath Israel of America. Mrs. Deborah Zachai, Agudath Israel Director of Education Affairs, said, “We are thrilled that yeshivos will soon be receiving their part of the $17 million for outstanding CAP payments owed to nonpublic schools. These monies, and the remainder of the $250 million appropriation coming later this year, will infuse our struggling yeshivos and other nonpublic schools with much needed and long-awaited funds.”
Yeshivos will no doubt be happy to start the new year with a positive conclusion to this Mandated Services legislative saga!