Some groups have dubbed this week “National School Choice Week.” “School choice,” however, is actually a euphemism for voucher programs, which undermine our public schools by taking money out of public schools and funneling it to private schools. Proponents of voucher programs argue that they are strengthening our country’s education program, but they are actually doing the exact opposite, and here’s how:
- Vouchers threaten religious liberty – About 90% of vouchers use public funds to cover all or part of tuition at church-related schools. Parents have the right to send their children to sectarian schools, but our government should not have the right to use taxpayer dollars to pay for this right.
- Vouchers do not improve academic achievement – Multiple studies have shown that students offered vouchers do not perform better academically than students in public schools. In fact, students in the D.C. voucher program are less likely to have access to learning support such as English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, tutors, special needs programs, and even nurses, counselors, and cafeterias.
- Vouchers lack quality control and accountability – The government has no input into the curricula, management, and quality of the schools that receive voucher money. Schools don’t have to be accredited, and quality control is self-described as a “dead zone, a blind spot.”
For a look at the facts without nearly as many footnotes, check out the VoucherFail tumblr! Please add your own, share the existing memes, and retweet our posts. It is important that we add our voices of truth and reason to the online debate this week.
All images are from the VoucherFail tumblr.
Recently, Congregation Or Ami sponsored two teens – 10th graders Sophie Barnes and Josh Gellerman – to attend the NFTY NASHIR Songleading Weekend in Seattle, Washington. As Cantor Doug Cotler has made it a priority to nurture new Jewish songleaders, musicians, composers and singers, we were excited to send these musical teens for training. Both Josh and Sophie recently reflected on their experiences.
Sophie writes: In early January, I attended a NFTY NASHIR Song leading weekend with about 30 teenagers from all over the country and Canada. We learned all about being a song leader in a Jewish community and to lead services for the children in religious school. The convention was held at Temple Beth Am and was lead by many talented, professional song leaders. I have been singing my entire life and performing has always been a passion of mine, but I had never tried song leading before. I went into the weekend barely knowing anything about song leading and by the end I felt like a professional.
Josh writes: I flew to Seattle for the Nashir Songleaders Retreat, and after being picked up at the airport, I was driven to Temple Beth Am. Once I arrived, I went to the youth lounge and basically just hung out and jammed with about thirty other kids who were there for the program. The trip turned out to be a lot more Jewish than I had originally thought that it would be. Every day, we all gathered for services. One thing that I noticed and really liked about Beth Am is that – much like Congregation Or Ami – every service is more like a concert. While of course we still prayed with spoken words, the congregants seemed to really connect with the spirituality through music.
Josh: Both of the nights that we were in Seattle, we stayed with very nice families who attended Beth Am. It was very generous of them to let us into their homes, as they were very accommodating and pleasant.
Sophie: Over the weekend we learned multiple Jewish songs and many techniques on how to be a song leader. We also participated in a bunch of workshops that taught everything you could possibly need to know about song leading.
Josh: The next morning we had interactive services for two hours where we all sang and prayed with the cantor. The whole time that I was there, I was constantly learning new things.
Sophie: We helped lead Shabbat services, taught and lead a song to our peers, and then worked up to finally getting to lead the kids in the Temple Beth Am religious school.
Josh: After services, we split up into our home group to do a “teach,” where we demonstrated how we led songs. I played Cantor Doug Cotler’s, “Listen.” We then went to workshops where we learned better ways to song-lead. A notable addition to the staff was made when Alan Goodis joined the leadership crew. I suggest you check out some of his music.
Sophie: The fact that we were able to learn so much in one weekend was truly amazing. I absolutely loved leading the kids and it was something I will never forget. I came home from the weekend with a whole new outlook on song leading, and I also returned from the weekend with tons of new friends. I reconnected with old friends and made many new ones. When we weren’t practicing our song leading, we were in a circle jamming on our guitars and singing. It was so eye opening to see that there were so many Jewish teens that have the same exact interests as me. I got so much out of the weekend and it helped me realize how much I love being a part of the Jewish community. It was an overall amazing experience and I am so glad I was able to be a part of it.
Josh: All in all I am really glad that I went. I learned a lot of new things about songleading and service leading that I will bring back home with me, not only a song-leader but also as a musician. A bonus from the trip was finding an immediate connection to a greater Jewish youth community. I made new friends from not only our own San Fernando Valley, but from Canada as well.
Josh and Sophie: Thanks again, Congregation Or Ami, for recommending us and sponsoring us for this weekend. It was great! We look forward to doing songleading for the congregation and religious school.
Originally published at Or Am I?
by Eric Lightman
The new 6 Points Science & Technology Academy is gearing up to tackle one of our nation’s biggest challenges: providing quality educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for children. Last year, President Obama said that our efforts to improve STEM education are “going to make more of a difference in determining how well we do as a country than just about anything else.” But not all education need take place in a classroom—and the informal educational model that summer camps have perfected over the past century seem a perfect model for delivering engaging science and technology experiences to children.
Supported by a grant from the Foundation for Jewish Camp through the Jim Joseph Foundation and the AVI CHAI Foundation, the Union for Reform Judaism’s 6 Points Science & Technology Academy is one of four new Jewish “specialty” camps that will open in the summer of 2014. Specialty camps are an avenue through which to engage more children in immersive Jewish summer experiences. With an increasing number of summer options, having to choose between two seemingly divergent types of programs (Jewish camp and specialty camp) presents a dilemma for Jewish parents. Our goal is to offer the best of both worlds: expert specialty camp instruction in a warm, fun, Jewish environment.
6 Points Science & Technology Academy will feature hands-on, project-based learning for children ages 10-14. The camp will be located in the Boston area, taking advantage of local resources from professors at MIT, entrepreneurs working in the Route 128 high-tech corridor, and the nearby Museum of Science. Far from being a typical a summer camp experience, 6 Points Science & Technology Academy seeks to engage youth in active learning experiences, encouraging them to explore and develop their interests and valuing their curiosity for the world around them.
Planning for the new camp is an 18-month process. First, we must work out the details about the “look and feel” of our community and program. How many hours per day will campers spend in a science lab? How often will they go to the pool? What elective activities will we offer? How we will incorporate the Jewish element into our daily life at camp? Then, marketing and recruitment will take center stage. With no existing camper base to recruit from, our staff will canvas North America to raise awareness about our program and explain its value to campers and parents. A facility must be secured, staff must be hired, and program curricula must be crafted with the help of professional educators and experts in their field.
To aid in the process of launching the new camps, the FJC provides not only funding to cover start-up costs, but also a series of intensive camp director trainings and professional mentorship. During the course of three years, the directors will go through a series of 10 week-long workshops covering every aspect of camp management, from marketing to programming to board governance. The goal is ultimately to build self-sustaining institutions within five years and increasing the total number of children attending Jewish summer programs.
In addition to the URJ’s 6 Points Science & Technology Academy, other camps being launched with the FJC’s support are: Camp, Inc., focusing on business and entrepreneurship; Camp Zeke, focusing on health and wellness; and JCC Maccabi Sports Camp. These camps join five others that launched in the summer of 2010 as part of the FJC’s original specialty camp initiative, which included the URJ’s 6 Points Sports Academy, based in Greensboro, N.C.
Science is a natural fit with Jewish summer camp. We want our children to be critical thinkers, explore new experiences, learn to live both independently and as part of a cohesive community, and make positive contributions to the world around them. These elements pervade both the Jewish community and scientific community that we will create at 6 Points Science & Technology Academy, and will define the next generation of committed, passionate Jewish scientists.
Eric Lightman is the director of 6 Points Science & Technology Academy, a URJ summer camp opening in the summer of 2014. For more information about the camp, please e-mail email@example.com.
Earlier this month, Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address focused on a myriad of issues, many of which show up again in his budget proposal. There is a 4.4% increase in education spending, $1 billion over five years for affordable housing projects, $21 billion in state funds for disaster relief, recovery and mitigation and a provision to raise the state minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.75 effective July 1, 2013.
The minimum wage provision is the center of many conversations in Albany. Should this provision remain intact when the state legislature passes the budget, it would mean a $1.50 increase per hour for nearly one million minimum wage workers in the Empire State. This item could gain some Republican support, but Democrats are not pleased that it does not include a provision to index the minimum wage for inflation.
Education funding is also set to increase should the Governor get his way. The current proposal calls for $889 million to be added to the state’s $20.8 billion education budget for competitive grants, assistance for poorer districts to provide extended school days and full-day kindergarten, and one time aid to struggling districts.
Expanding affordable housing for New Yorkers was among the issues Governor Cuomo discussed earlier this month in his State of the State. According to the proposal, there are 2.9 million households in New York that spend more than 30% of their annual income on housing costs. The House NY program included in the budget proposal would allocate $1 billion over five years to maintain and construct 14, 300 affordable housing units around the state.
An additional $36 million will be utilized to implement the NY SAFE Act, the new gun violence prevention law.
Looking at 89-page summary document, it is important to discuss what the Governor did not include in his proposal. First, there is no mention of hydrofracking in his budget; while pro-fracking advocates see the delay in legalizing the controversial drilling practice as a loss in state revenue, anti-fracking groups are congratulating the Governor. Most likely, it is not included because the state’s environmental review of the practice remained unfinished.
And for all the talk of education in this budget proposal, there was no discussion of the DREAM Act in either this proposal or Cuomo’s State of the State. The bill, passed by the Assembly last year and reintroduced this year, would provide tuition aid to undocumented immigrants.
Also missing from the proposal is any mention of campaign finance reform and the Reproductive Health Act, key issues for the Governor and Reform Jewish Voice.
It’s now up to the legislature to balance and pass an on-time budget. Should they pass it by March 31, 2013, this will be the third consecutive year in which they have done so.
While funding state programs and balancing the budget are necessary actions each year, perhaps the most intriguing and exciting provision in this proposal is the minimum wage increase. Reform Jewish Voice of New York State has worked on this issue for many years now and in response for Governor Cuomo’s proposal signed a statement put together by the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State emphasizing the importance of this issue.