Haredi schools have allegedly received millions of dollars to fund purchases of computers and installation of T-1 lines and Internet hookups. But these schools are mostly devoid of the technology they received the money to pay for. Some schools have received hundreds of thousands of dollars over more than a decade, but have little to nothing in place to show for it.
Julie Weiner and Hella Winston report for The Jewish Week:
At Yeshivat Avir Yakov, an all-boys school in the chasidic enclave of New Square in New York’s Rockland County, students spend the vast majority of their long school days studying religious texts in Spartan classrooms furnished only with battered wooden benches and desks. Unlike their counterparts in public or private schools outside the chasidic community, the boys at Avir Yakov do not have access to the Internet or computers in their school because chasidic leaders view new technology as a corrupting force capable of undermining their way of life.
Indeed, recent graduates report never having seen — let alone used — a computer in their classrooms, and video of the inside of the Avir Yakov building shot within the past two weeks and obtained by The Jewish Week seems to support their accounts: not one of the yeshiva’s classrooms, public areas or designated resource rooms seen on the video contains a computer, or even a telephone.
So it comes as a surprise that the approximately 3,000-student school has, since 1998, been allotted more than $3.3 million in government funds earmarked for Internet and other telecommunications technology.
In 2011 alone, the yeshiva collected $817,065 through E-rate, a 15-year-old federal program that subsidizes telecommunications services and infrastructure for schools and libraries, giving larger discounts to those serving low-income populations.
In 2012, Avir Yakov got $209,423 the vast majority of that money for telecommunications service provided by a Brooklyn company called Discount Cellular Plus.
Avir Yakov is just one of many fervently Orthodox Jewish schools in New York State that, despite publicly eschewing Internet use and despite offering their students minimal, if any, access to computers, have spent large sums of E-rate money.…
The report goes on to note that Discount Cellular Plus serves haredim almost exclusively.
• In 2011, Jewish schools enrolled approximately 4% of the state’s K-12 students. But they were given 22% of the state’s total E-rate allocations.
• Chabad.org and other haredi organizations have started to classify themselves as libraries in order to get e-rate grants.
• Even Torah Umesorah, the haredi day school/yeshiva umbrealla organization did this – even though Torah Umesorah itself is not a school or a library.
• "Williamsburg-based Discount Cellular Plus, is being sued in federal court by Sprint/Nextel. The suit alleges that Discount Cellular Plus, along with its owner Yoel Stossel and two other men, targeted yeshivas to steal their special discounts and rate plans and that the defendants then fraudulently acquired large quantities of “new high-end Sprint phones,” including iPhones, which they illegally unlocked and resold for a substantial profit overseas."
• "UTA has consistently been approved for E-rate reimbursements, even though a 2004 audit by the FCC’s inspector general concluded that in 1999, the focus of the audit, UTA was “not compliant with the program regulations.” (The FCC later overruled the resulting recommendation that the Satmar school return $934,300.)"
• Bobov, Krasna and Chabad schools all got large amounts of money, as well.
• Many of the hasidic schools received funding for large numbers of pager and smartphones.
• Students at these schools spoke of schools completely empty of the computers e-rate funded. One spoke of a classrooms wired for computers but none ever being installed and no internet connections were provided.
• Richard Bernstein, founder of E-Rate Consulting LLC in Woodmere, L.I., appears to be Orthodox. He seems to be the man who helps these haredi schools get tons of government money it would seem they do not really qualify for.
Read Part 1 of the Jewish week's four month investigation, which is far more detailed that the Forward's report last month, here.