Saturday, July 03, 2010

Albany drops plan for grants to rabbinical students 

Gov. David Paterson must cancel his plan to let students at rabbinical schools like Kiryas Joel's claim state tuition subsidies in order to kill $600 million in public-school aid that lawmakers added to his budget.

According to his Division of the Budget, Paterson can't drop the additional school aid without vetoing an entire bill of policy changes, including one that would make students at UTA Mesivta of Kiryas Joel and 41 other rabbinical colleges eligible for annual grants of up to $5,000 for the first time.

On Friday, Paterson finished signing all 6,900 vetoes he had planned, most of which consisted of legislators' pork-barrel grants.

Legislators, meanwhile, left Albany for the holiday weekend with part of their overdue budget — a revenue bill to support the spending Democrats approved — in limbo in the Senate.

Orthodox Jewish leaders had lobbied Albany for several years to include rabbinical schools in the state's Tuition Assistance Program, arguing that the federal government permits Pell Grants for students at those schools and that the state should follow suit.

They made their case directly to Paterson earlier this year at a Kiryas Joel fundraiser, at which 29 donors pumped $140,200 into Paterson's campaign coffers.

Paterson planned then to run for governor this November, but later withdrew from the race.

Nine days after the Jan. 10 fundraiser, Paterson introduced a budget that included the tuition grants for rabbinical schools. The proposal was expected to cost the state $12.8 million this fiscal year and $18.3 million next year.

State lawmakers kept that provision in budget bills they passed on Monday, delighting groups that fought for it.

"This is one of the greatest accomplishments for the Jewish community," Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn, who attended the Paterson fundraiser in Kiryas Joel, told the Yeshiva World News website.

"It is both historical and a miracle. For this to happen in the current economy is nothing short of a miracle," he said.

According to federal records, students attending UTA Mesivta of Kiryas Joel claimed a total of $6.2 million in Pell Grants in the last federal fiscal year; the reported enrollment was 1,161 in the fall of 2008.


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