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May 26, 2015 7:31 am

How to Solve the Jewish Day School ‘Tuition Crisis’

avatar by Shmuel Marcus and Jonathan Morgenstern

Pictured here, the Rimon Initiative at Philadelphia's Temple Sholom offers students project-based chugim (electives), an example cited by Rabbi Phil Warmflash and Anna Marx for an innovative new model in Jewish education. Photo: Provided photo.

Everyone asks us, what can be done about the cost of a day school education?

Week after week, the tuition crisis comes to our attention, front and center. Rabbis, couples and concerned members of the community call us, email us, and approach us after davening regarding the financial pressures threatening our schools and squeezing our middle class families. Sometimes, they are parents squeezed by the prices who somehow make it work, but are always asking when it will ever get better. And sometimes, it’s extremely generous and charitable individuals looking to quietly help the community at large in this struggle.

This problem has been given a name, “The Tuition Crisis,” and is fueled by the issues we all know:

  • A slow economic recovery has too many families still hurting financially.
  • Security costs have spiked. As we look around the world, and sadly, very close to home, we understand why.
  • Energy costs are also on the rise. And technology in the classroom is an increasing, and increasingly expensive need.
  • Salaries, benefits and annual raises for dedicated teachers and staff – which account for almost 90 percent of a school’s operating budget – must remain in place to recruit and retain high quality educators.

Likewise, we know what needs to be done. Our local schools must continue to be recipients of our tzedaka (charity) dollars, not just as a token of our appreciation for educating our children but also because halacha (Jewish law) directs us to prioritize our local institutions when determining giving. And while some schools have undertaken innovative tuition reduction initiatives, many have not, and it’s still too much to ask of the schools alone.

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We can’t fix this without help from our government leaders. We must lobby those in state and local office.

In fact, on each issue we have raised, there is constitutionally sound political action happening right now that could fix this crisis.

  • A tuition tax credit to help provide millions in scholarship dollars is ready for a vote in Albany.
  • Bills to provide security for our schools and allow them to pay cheaper rates for energy – a rate currently only available to some public schools.
  • Technology assistance is another area in which we see activity.

Already, dedicated leaders in our community, along with professionals working for a variety of Jewish organizations, are reaching out to our elected officials to press them to support these programs. They are also partnering with other faith communities that have similar issues, such as the Catholic Church and other Christian schools, so everyone knows this isn’t “just” a Jewish issue.

But they cannot do this alone.

It is not enough to vote.  It is not enough to be a member or donor to one of these organizations. And it is not enough to be a concerned parent.

Our elected officials must hear from us as a community.

They hear from us on the threat of a nuclear Iran. They hear from us on the need to stand with Israel.

They must hear from us on the need to support our children, our schools and our community.

Very soon, many of our local day schools and yeshivot will be hosting our local politicians. They do so in partnership with the Orthodox Union, one of the key organizations involved in this effort.

When they come to school they will see our unique brand of education in action, and they will meet our children.

But they should also meet you. You should attend these meetings. Please contact your school and ask when the meeting is, and please make every effort to be there.

We will be there. Our community advocacy leaders will be there. Our kids, our teachers, and our school leaders will be there. You should be there too.

We’ve all at points taken off work to travel to Washington, DC to lobby and to rally on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Israel, or skipped our lunch break to protest at the UN.

Now, your community needs your help and attention too.

It does not matter whether you are a family on scholarship, a family working hard each day to make ends meet, or a dedicated supporter of Jewish educational needs.

You should call your school and arrange to be there.

It also does not matter whether you know your own elected official supports us. They must be able to go back to their colleagues and say, “This issue really matters to my constituency.”

You really should be there.

As we celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, we were reminded that every Jew stood at the foot of Sinai. Every Jew said “Na’aseh V’nishma” – we are ready to do whatever is needed of us.

Well, every one of us is needed now to step up on this crucial issue.

May we merit to see results that are at least equal to our communal effort.

Rabbi Shmuel Marcus is Rav of Kehilas Ishei Yisrael, Kew Gardens Hills, and Rabbi Jonathan Morgenstern is Rabbi of the Young Israel of Scarsdale.

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