“Title I was what made Agudath Israel a national organization”
One of the most significant funding sources for yeshivos from the federal government, Title I — a government grant for special-needs children in districts where at least 50 percent of families are below the federal poverty line — has long been mired in red tape and a liberal suspicion of private schools. An effort by Agudath Israel a decade ago to free it up has now resulted in a doubling of slots.
New York was getting Title I for about ten years when Agudah decided to go nationwide and lobby for California’s yeshivos as well. They hit their first roadblock when the school board said that the official responsible for this was about to retire and they should wait until his replacement came in. They waited two months, and were then told that the replacement was on vacation.
“It took about two years, but we finally got Title I approved for yeshivos there,” said Agudah veteran Rabbi Leibish Becker. “They just put up one roadblock after the other. We then moved on to Florida. And this is a story you’re not going to believe.”
Eerily, the same exact course of events played out. Florida officials said they were ready to help — but the official responsible was about to retire, and the Agudah should wait for his replacement. They waited a couple of months, and were told that the replacement was on vacation, could they wait for his return?
Nine states now have Title I services, each one with its own set of “sturm und drang,” Rabbi Becker said. While he’s celebrating, he emphasizes that their fight is renewed each year, since the battle must be refought to include funds in local budgets.
“Title I was what made Agudath Israel a national organization,” Rabbi Becker said. “It’s always the first request we get for help.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 871)
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