Governor Kathy Hochul revealed a budget agreement for New York State on Thursday night. This agreement may significantly impact the parents of yeshiva children.
For the first time, the state will allocate $134 million to the program for free school lunches in the coming year.
This significant accomplishment is partly attributable to the Agudah, Orthodox Union, and other Jewish advocacy organizations’ vigorous lobbying efforts.
Even though it might seem like a win for school advocates, the funding isn’t enough to implement their main demand—free meals for all students.
According to Rabbi Yeruchim Silber of Agudath Israel, who oversees government relations, Hochul’s declaration is “wonderful news for parents and children throughout New York State.”
This was “a significant victory for New York families,” according to the managing director of the Orthodox Union, Maury Litwack.
Many yeshiva parents benefit from the federal government’s years of providing free or reduced-price meals based on income rather than the state.
No matter their financial situation, all students received free meals from the federal government during the COVID pandemic.
Before regular school meals, there were “grab-and-go” packages. Many yeshiva families enthusiastically utilized that program, but it was terminated in June last year, affecting more than 700,000 NYS students who do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
Advocates for public schools have made a strong case for the state to finance all pupils who are not enrolled in federal food programs.
The Senate and Assembly included this funding in their budget recommendations earlier this year disclosed, but the governor’s proposal did not.
Advocacy groups, such as Agudath Israel and the Teach Coalition of the Orthodox Union, actively lobbied for the funds while the negotiations continued.
And it appears that the effort was largely successful. Hochul said on Thursday night that a hefty $229 billion state budget for 2024, which includes money for the lunch program, had been reached.
Which students will be eligible, how many students the $134 million will cover, and whether students from public and private schools will be treated equally are all unknowns.
Given that tuition is already extremely expensive, yeshiva parents hope to at least receive equitable treatment.