Jewish faith schools grab computer cash
A federally backed programme subsidising Internet access for low-income students has committed more money to schools in the heavily Orthodox Jewish town of Lakewood, NJ, in recent years than to schools in any other municipality in the entire state.
Yet after several years of participating in the E-Rate subsidy programme, Lakewood’s schools have far fewer Internet-capable devices per student than in any large New Jersey city, according to this report.
Ultra-Orthodox leaders in Lakewood have railed against the dangers of the Internet, especially for young people. In 2012, more than 40,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews filled a New York stadium to discuss the dangers of the Internet.
Eytan Kobre, a spokesman for the event, said:
The siren song of the Internet entices us! It brings out the worst of us!
This raises questions about why Lakewood’s Orthodox schools have benefited so heavily from the subsidy.
Schools in Lakewood, a town of 92,000, have received more dollars per student than those in any other significant city in New Jersey. In 2011, schools in Lakewood received $282 in E-Rate commitments for every student served by the programme.
But schools in Newark, the largest city in New Jersey and one of the poorest, received just $82 per student that year.
One Lakewood Orthodox girls school, Bais Rivka Rochel, reported having just five Internet-capable devices in a school of 1,025 students, despite receiving $700,000 in E-Rate subsidies.
Said J Michael Rush, a former official with the New Jersey Department of Education and a former public school superintendent who lives in Lakewood:
I think it’s unfair. It’s inequality, no matter how you look at it.
The US Congress created the E-Rate programme in 1995 to help financially disadvantaged young people get access to the Internet in schools and at libraries. Since 1998, E-Rate has distributed $2.25 billion each year, collected from telecommunications firms, to schools and libraries nationwide.
Charges of waste and fraud have long followed E-Rate, which was the subject of a congressional investigation in 2005. Recent investigations published in the The Forward and The Jewish Week of New York have drawn attention to Orthodox Jewish communities’ exploitation of the programme.
The Forward reported in February that ultra-Orthodox institutions in Brooklyn that don’t qualify as libraries have received $1.4 million in E-Rate library subsidies.
Later in February, The Jewish Week of New York reported that Orthodox schools in upstate New York and in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Boro Park and Crown Heights had received millions in E-Rate subsidies despite not providing students with Internet access.
The Jewish Week stories also raised questions about possible fraud involving E-Rate service providers to these schools.
The latest findings – the result of an analysis of publicly available data – show an apparent imbalance in the distribution of E-Rate funding in New Jersey that overwhelmingly favours Lakewood’s ultra-Orthodox community.
Two decades ago, Lakewood was a small New Jersey town with large African-American and Hispanic populations. It was also home to Beth Medrash Govoha, a non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox yeshiva.
Founded in the 1940s, the yeshiva serves as an amalgam of college and graduate school for ultra-Orthodox young men, teaching high-level courses in Talmudic law. The institution is the leading one of its kind in the United States, and enrolment there has ballooned to nearly 5,000 men in recent years.
The growth of the yeshiva spurred a parallel growth in the Orthodox population of Lakewood, and in the size of the town overall. The town’s population grew by 53 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to US Census data, making it one of the largest municipalities in the state.
Since 2010, schools and libraries located in Lakewood have received a total of $15 million in E-Rate commitments, more than schools in any other part of New Jersey.
Schools and libraries in Newark, the next-biggest E-Rate recipient in New Jersey and a much larger city than Lakewood, received just $14 million over the same period.