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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

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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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  • Votejoin.com is new platform for people joinvotes and to band together in politics, groups, and home owners associations. Why not create a cause to get more public and private funding for jewish day schools.

  • I disagree with all of you. Your comments clearly indicate that you do not understand the laws of economics and economies of scale. The first problem is that you have too many jewish families spread out around country in the too many localities, cities, and suburbs. Second the model of having a jewish day school with 100 children per grade at most, in all these small podunk towns is unsustainable because of admin costs like payroll, healthcare, fringe benefits, property taxes, utilities and etc. If jews lived together in more concentrated neighborhoods you could have schools with 600 children per grade and then have tuition at half of what it is currently because of economies of scale, even factoring additional teachers. Look at how muslim communities are more concentrated in Virginia and other states. Additionally, go look at school districts like Great Neck NY, or Woodmere NY, where there is such a high concentration of jewish residents that even the public schools have a large population of jewish students. I keep reading there needs to be more donation to the schools, and fundraising. That isnt the solution and is likely to happen from most of the billionare jews in this country other than maybe a few families like the Kushners, and Safras. Factoring in a yearly 6% rate of inflation in health care and tuition, in 10-15 years the yearly tuition per child for a Yeshiva Highschool will be over $50,000 per year. You all need to wakeup and smell the coffee. What sane jewish parent who is middle or upper middle class is going to spend over $1million dollars per child in today’s dollars for a yeshiva education. You would be better off sending them to a good public school hiring private hebrew and halacha instruction 2-3 times a week and investing the money in multifamily housing in major urban cities where all these millenials want to live the single / renters life.

  • Baruch Atta

    Day schools should employ one teacher per class. This business of an “English” teacher AND a “Hebrew Rebbi” should end. If we force the kids to sit and learn a double course schedule (English and Hebrew, Holy and Secular) then we should darn right ask the teacher to teach both as well.

    The policy of two teachers per class comes from the old days of European immigration. The Americaniche teacher did not know Yiddish, and the Yiddish rebbe did not know English. But today, I expect that’s right, I expect that the Rebbe will be also a college educated instructor. And that, my friends, would reduce the cost by about 40% or more.

    Further – buildings should not be paid for by parents. Building funds, and all that, should be borne by the community.

  • Baruch Eiler

    Hi I am a parent and undergo this tuition crisis every month and it is very hard for me to pay and I do not know what to do anymore I really need help from government officials I have three kids in private school (yeshiva) and I really need the support from someone if someone can do something about this

  • Peter

    Jewish private schools need to become less dependent on tuition and more focused on fund raising to pay their bills. What has happened in the past 40 years is a proliferation of Yeshivas and Jewish day schools primarily the result of the decline of the Public School system. However, many of these schools opened up without any endowment or commitment from the well-to-do and have relied solely on tuition which goes up and up and is so high that is is obscene. Where is UJA? UJA, which pays its executives overly high salaries, seems more interested in helping general causes than investing in privately run Jewish schools. And Jewish millionaires, although most do support Jewish schools in some form, seem happier to give to museums, hospitals and private universities (and of course, the Democratic Party), etc.
    Unless things change, I am afraid that there will be a “black lash” and more and more Jewish parents will be sending their children to “charter or magnet public schools”, including the Orthodox. Not every parent can afford to pay $10,000 or is it up to $20,000 (plus extra for things like annual dinners, etc.) per kid annually for the privilege to attend Yeshiva or Jewish Day School.

    • There are also some very wealthy Jews who are Republicans, such as Sheldon Adelson. I do not ever read of Adelson donating to yeshivas. Also the writer, Peter attributes the growth of Yeshivas and Jewish day schools to the decline of the Public School System. While it is true that there are some who send their children to yeshivas because of that situation, the overwhelming majority of those in yeshivas are there because their respective families are strictly Orthodox and would never consider sending their children to Public Schools.

  • Ruth Broch

    There’s a very simple answer to this question, where a Jewish education of any type you want is available at practically no cost: come home to where you belong – Israel – and live a truly Jewish life, not a diaspora, second-class one!

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