Council Push for $50 MM Diversion to Religious Schools Intensifies

Brooklyn City Councilmember Chaim Deutsch. | NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL

Brooklyn City Councilmember Chaim Deutsch. | NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL

BY ANDY HUMM | A $100,000 ad campaign has been launched in the Catholic and Jewish press to pressure Mayor Bill de Blasio into supporting a City Council bill, Intro 65, to let private and religious schools obtain free security officers for their schools. The bill is an unprecedented transfer of $50 million of public funds to private schools — many of them run by anti-gay religions — with no requirement that they stop discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity in order to access the funds.

City & State reported that the ad campaign is being bankrolled by “Jewish and Catholic philanthropists” who “wish to remain anonymous.”

The bill has support from 46 of 51 councilmembers — including four of the Council’s gay caucus: Corey Johnson of Manhattan, Carlos Menchaca of Brooklyn, Ritchie Torres of the Bronx, and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens. It is strongly opposed by out LGBT Councilmembers Daniel Dromm of Queens and Rosie Mendez of Manhattan.

Tape surfaces of anti-gay rant by a leading sponsor from Brooklyn

One of the lead sponsors of Intro 65, and another bill to provide even more safety resources to private and religious schools, is Brooklyn Councilmember Chaim Deutsch, chair of the Council Subcommittee on Non-Public Schools. A video has surfaced from a 2013 debate in his District 48 primary where he chastised his opponent, Theresa Scavo, saying, “You have the National Organization for Women’s endorsement which — I don’t know how you could represent this community when they have an agenda with gays and lesbians if you take a look at their website.”

Deutsch’s office did not respond to a question from Gay City News as to why support from an organization that endorsed a gay and lesbian “agenda” was unacceptable in his community, or what else he might have meant by the charge.

Dromm said, “I am terribly disappointed and hurt by Councilmember Deutsch’s statement about the LGBT community. I have to work closely with him because he is chair of the Subcommittee on Non-Public Schools and I am chair of Education, and it is very hurtful that he does not value my family as much as his family.”

Deutsch’s comments in the debate at the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition forum can be seen at the 4:42 mark at goo.gl/Di0q59.

Councilmember David Greenfield, who heads an organization dedicated to securing public funds for private schools, wrote in an email that he is pushing the bill because “bias crimes against the religious community are on the rise.”

The police department testified that it will deploy officers against any demonstrable threat to any institution, but does not support supplying personnel to every private or public school on demand as the bill mandates. Dromm, chair of the Education Committee, wrote in City & State that at an April hearing on the measure “the head of the NYPD School Safety Division expressed deep concerns that passing Intro 65 would potentially hinder its ability to deploy staffing resources effectively.”

The four gay councilmembers supporting the bill have not responded to repeated questions from Gay City News on why publicly funded security for private schools has now become necessary, and what limits they would set on public funding for religious schools.

Torres held a press conference supporting the bill in May at a religious school in the Bronx, Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy, where the annual tuition is upwards of $40,000 a year.

As Gay City News reported, education activists oppose the bill because of the severe underfunding of public schools, and LGBT and civil liberties activists see it as an unacceptable breach of the wall between church and state and a subsidy for anti-gay institutions.

Dromm, who said Intro 65 could cost as much as five times the $50 million projected by sponsors, said he does not know if the bill will move forward or not.

“I hope that the mayor will address the issue directly and reconfirm his commitment to funding our public schools adequately,” he said.

Asked to explain why progressive New York politicians are now aligning themselves with religious constituencies over their commitment to church-state separation, Kenneth Sherrill, out gay political science professor emeritus at Hunter College, said, “I think the decline of traditional party organizations has magnified the ability of traditionally conservative religious organizations to turn out voters, sometimes enabling them to dominate primaries with no runoffs, as well as to be able to deliver swing voters in closely contested elections. Just as old line political machines controlled jobs, the religious organizations use government funding to hire people who are highly motivated to campaign for someone who will allow them to keep their jobs.”

Editor's note: In the original posting of this story, the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition was misidentified as the Flatbush Community Council. The candidate debate discussed in this article was hosted by the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition.

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