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Academic Success a Reality for Children with Special Needs Thanks to Agudah-HFLS Partnership

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By AIA/Leah Zagelbaum

A nearly 20 year long partnership between Agudath Israel of America and the Hebrew Free Loan Society has facilitated over 2,000 bridge loans for special education students in New York State, helping lower and moderate income families obtain the schooling they need for their children.

Under the Carter Law, private school parents who demonstrate that they cannot find an appropriate public placement for their child may be able to enroll their child in a private school program, with tuition reimbursement made by the Department of Education.  But with tuition costs often running tens of thousands of dollars, parents found themselves unable to lay out the monies needed to provide their children with an appropriate education.

Given those economic realities, Mrs. Leah Steinberg, Director of Agudath Israel’s Project LEARN, approached Drs. Donald and Irwin Gribetz and worked with Mrs. Shana Novick of the Hebrew Free Loan Society to set up a bridge loan program for special education.  With the loans guaranteed by Agudath Israel of America, and the system in place, the number of Jewish special needs schools grew dramatically.

“The original system was a catch-22,” explained Mrs. Steinberg.  “The tuition reimbursements were available but most parents were just not capable of laying out the large sums required for their children’s special education.”

“This is a wonderful partnership,” Mrs. Steinberg continued, “Agudah’s guarantee has made it possible for HFLS to lend needy parents millions of dollars over the years.”

When the program began in 1999 there were just three Orthodox Jewish schools serving the special education population.  Today, a 28th school is set to open soon. According to Mrs. Steinberg, the system is so seamless that most parents, and even some of the schools, are unaware of the complexities involved.

“What is amazing about this process is that parents are comfortable with the way that this works,” said Mrs. Steinberg.  “Instead of having to worry about where the money is coming from, they can focus on their children’s other needs.”

A May 30th event sponsored by the Hebrew Free Loan Society highlighted its partnership with the Agudah and included a seven minute long video demonstrating the program’s success. Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of the Agudah, praised HFLS’s executive director Rabbi David Rosenn and deputy director Ms. Kim Kaplan, for their continued commitment to helping families obtain appropriate scholastic opportunities.

“The system wouldn’t work were it not for the bridge loans that Hebrew Free Loan Society extends to these parents,” said Rabbi Zwiebel.  “It is thanks to them that hundreds and hundreds of children have, over the years, been able to obtain the kind of education that maximizes their potential as human beings and as members of the Jewish community.”

This article was originally published on June, 6, 2019 in Baltimore Jewish Life.