BJC Updates Policies at February Meeting

Baltimore Jewish Council Executive Director Howard Libit (Marc Shapiro)

Board members of the Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC), the legislative arm of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, voted on Feb. 28 to change three council policies regarding education, child support and public health. BJC executive director Howard Libit said that the substance of each policy would not greatly change, only be updated for relevance.

“On our website we have many policies, some of which we passed two or three decades ago,” said Libit during the meeting. “Some of these policies were passed with specifics to the time that they were passed. So it refers to Gov. O’Malley, or a bill proposed by Gov. Glendening. We’re trying to clean up the policies to make them more clear and relevant without specific reference with a specific to a bill that’s been changed three times since.”

The first and most substantial policy change combined updated versions of the council’s then-existing education and tax credits for education polices into one broad education item. The new policy states that the BJC “supports a well-funded public education system,” and “also believes that appropriately crafted public funding to private and parochial schools must be provided in a constitutionally permissible manner.” BJC members originally voted in 2009 to support legislation that would fund tuition to private schools for children in low-income families. Though not mentioned by name in the policy, the current state government mechanism providing this service is the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) program. Last year, Gov. Larry Hogan appropriated $7 million of the state’s 2019 budget for BOOST.

At the board of directors meeting, Margie Simon, co-chair of the BJC Holocaust Remembrance Commission, said she does not support this portion of the council’s policy.

“I believe this harms public education both directly and indirectly,” she said. “Schools are funded according to the number of students enrolled, so neighborhood schools suffer when students elect to go to nonpublic schools.”

Libit noted that the action item for the meeting was to change the language of the existing policy and that in order to change the actual policy, board members would have to make a motion asking the BJC government relations committee to reconsider its position.

The board ultimately voted to approve the policy change, but in light of the concern from Simon and other board members, has scheduled an informational session for board members immediately following the next meeting in April to discuss the impacts the BOOST program.

The other policy updates saw no objections. The first sentence of the BJC’s child support policy removed the phrase “who are able” from a sentence that now reads “The Baltimore Jewish Council believes that all parents [phrase removed] should strive to financially support their children,” and the new public health policy now reads “The Baltimore Jewish Council supports health policies aimed at addressing disease prevention, social determinants of health, and quality health care for all.”

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