Day School Affordability: Whose Responsibility?

Families with school-age children cannot afford to sustain the schools alone. The tuition crisis is one of the most significant issues challenging the Jewish community today. School administrators and board members know the staggering costs of providing a quality education. The parent body, frequently both mom and dad, work long hours. And even if they make upwards of $200,000 a year, they can still be challenged to make ends meet if they have multiple tuitions to pay.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Scholarship committees have proposed drastic restrictions on the spending habits of families receiving assistance. Many schools have been forced to close their doors for good. Tragically, many students have been pulled out of day schools and enrolled in public school. Read the blogs. Families are buckling under the stress and anxiety caused by the skyrocketing costs of educating their children. Sadly, too many couples are opting not to have additional children, making the high cost of tuition the most effective birth control today.

To call this a crisis is not an exaggeration. The current system where the costs outweigh what the parents can pay is certain to implode. I personally believe that the long-term solution will ultimately come through legislation on the state and federal levels. Tax code issues, corporate tax credits, and funding for secular education (assuming a limited interpretation of the Blaine Amendment, which prohibits the use of state funds at “sectarian” schools) are all options being pursued by Jewish communal leaders, but unfortunately, they are still years down the road. Another excellent long-term solution is for people to leave 15 percent of their assets to their local day schools. As the years go by and the endowments grow, the financial stress borne by the schools will be alleviated.

Historically, Jewish communities in Western Europe never had a tuition crisis.

We may not be able to fix the problem in the short-term, but there is a way we can begin to improve the situation. This will require full, and perhaps unpopular, participation of the entire community. Historically, Jewish communities in Western Europe never had a tuition crisis. They had a gemeinde, a communal fund created by an equal percentage of everyone’s funds. The leaders of the communities decided how much each individual should contribute and how the money would be distributed. Consistent with Jewish tradition, the mikvah was the first priority; Jewish education was second. This meant that every member of the community was committed to giving a majority of his charity money to the local schools.

With the exception of Zurich, Switzerland and German Jewry, the gemeinde has become obsolete. People today do not want to be told how much money they must give away or to whom it must be given. It is true that today significant dollars are given to worthy causes, but our local schools are not often enough the beneficiaries of the community’s largesse.

From a Torah point of view, this is a terrible mistake. Our greatest leaders have advocated that anywhere from 67 to 75 percent of our obligatory charity dollars must be given locally – aniyei ircha kodmin, “the needs of your local community take precedence.“ Imagine if every member of the community gave 10 percent of his income to tzedakah, and a majority of that money went to our schools! We would still have challenges, but we would not have a crisis.

The 60/60 Proposal

Jewish communities consist of five components: singles; couples who either have no children or have very young children; families with school-age children; empty nesters and seniors. Singles and young couples are still finishing their education and establishing their careers. They may not feel rooted in the community they live in, and they may have little or no connection to the day school. Why should it be their responsibility? Empty nesters and seniors can justifiably say they have done their share – they have paid their tuitions and worked tirelessly on behalf of the schools. Now they want to support other causes that are meaningful to them. Why should the responsibility fall on them?

Without day schools, we face staggering rates of assimilation.

With all due respect, while these attitudes are understandable, they are not acceptable. Families with school-age children simply cannot afford to sustain the schools alone. From a Jewish standpoint, the obligation to keep the majority of charity dollars local applies to all ages and stages of life – not just to those with school-age children. Historically, members of the community made it an absolute priority to take care of their own. And philosophically, all of us who are part of a community must recognize that Jewish education is not a luxury – it is a necessity! American Jewish history has clearly shown that without yeshivot and day schools, we face staggering rates of intermarriage and assimilation.

If we care about the future of our community – its growth, its strength, its commitment to our values and traditions – then all who are members of that community must accept the responsibility to make sure our schools are viable and healthy by committing our charity dollars first and foremost to supporting Jewish education in our hometowns.

One community had an outstanding idea that I hope will become the norm: every member of the community must make a pledge to give 60 percent of his or her charity money to local institutions, and 60 percent of the funds earmarked for local causes should be invested directly in the day schools. I want to urge rabbis, principals, presidents, and other community leaders to advocate this idea in every community struggling to make Jewish education sustainable. If every member of the community made and honored this pledge, we would not solve the tuition crisis in the long run, but we would bring much-needed relief to families who are consumed with stress and worry over their tuition costs.

We are approaching the High Holidays, when as individuals and as a community we face judgment. How can we stand in the presence of the Almighty and beseech Him to bless and protect us if we are not doing all that we can to share our blessings and protect our own?

This Rosh Hashanah, let us all make a pledge to say “it is my responsibility” – because by taking responsibility we can alleviate the very real and destructive suffering of so many good and hard-working families. By taking responsibility, we can make the ultimate investment in the health and future of our people, and insure that every child, every family, and every community reaps the immeasurable benefits of Jewish education. Aish.

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  1. I have mentioned this before regarding tuition. There is a staggering amount of money that goes from our communities to wonderful organizations. These organizations are selfless, amazing and beneficial to most of us. However, no one, absolutely no one, should be giving money until they have satisfied their obligation towards their schools and teachers. Not only does Chinuch come first, but whether you like it or not, the schools and teachers are providing you a service, and therefore by Torah law, you are obligated to pay them before any charitable donations. People who are limited must inform those organizations that come calling or knocking, that they are unable to give. Perhaps they can volunteer some time or other method but not money. Public events such as Chinese auctions should be discouraged as it puts people in an uncomfortable position of being with friends but yet unable to give. This can easily be resolved by through the mail only auctions.
    Those individuals and families that can afford both tuition and donations, should obviously do so and should be strongly encouraged and energized to do so.

  2. This may work in an out of town community where there are maybe 2 schools but are considered community schools. In NY or Lakewood where there are so many schools (and some schools you don’t agree with the way they are run) it is not possible to create a communal obligation or fund. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give first priority to your own children’s school. But it is a hard for an owner of a private school to demand someone to give him their maaser money. I always pay as much as the school asks and even tip the teachers throughout the year. Even though this comes at the expense of the other worthy tzedakas

  3. A school that did’t or wouldn’t accept my child definitely remains a valid Tzedokah and Chas V’Sholom not to support the Limud H’Torah of the Tinokos Shel Bais Rabban that the world only exists in their merit because my child wasn’t accepted.However I am questioning if the halachic PRECEDENCE of Aniyay Ircha applies to a school that wouldn’t accept my child.As above please don’t misuse or misunderstand this comment to justify not supporting a school and giving Tzedokah.The question us solely a question of precedence.I pay more then full tuition to my children’s schools.

  4. There are those of us who grew up here, and whose parents grew up here as well, and both generations never had a problem getting accepted into school. Now our children aren’t getting accepted into any school. It doesn’t seem fair. Many of us have had to move to another community. I have several children, and pay tuition in full.

  5. those who eject a student for lack of funds are shofchei domim. See the Chazon Ish for his opinion that one needs a bais din of 23 to eject a student (and I dare say not a administrator/tuition vaad). How can those that don’t listen to daas torah teach torah????

  6. ATT MR Scoop:

    this seems to be a great article….but i have no patience to read such a long article. i’d suggest that longer articles should have a summary/bullet points etc..

    keep up the great work.

  7. Its the obligation of the ashirem the rich people to support torah, rabanu hakodosh supported a yeshiva and numerous others as we see in the gemora, the satmar rebbi re yolish didn’t charge and discarded the schar limud department after seeing that parents with a lot of kids could not pay tuition, today we don’t have such a powerful
    Person as the satmar rebbi so its the obligation of the rich ashirem to see that children should be able to learn torah

  8. Is it only real Anyim who are asking for tuition breaks?Perhaps schools should give breaks that come with liens on a persons house.When they sell the school must be paid back..If they can demand a person give from saving towards a house why not from a house that was bought already?Real Anyim won’t be affected

  9. #9 as you are correct the wealthly should help fit the schools budget gap with out a question but does that let the family off the hook by not trying to fund raise or the likes ?

    also when all the mosdos will be runned under 1 person such as the satmar rebber tz’l then there is only 1 opion and not 25 so what ever he says wuill be done however this is not the case in lakewood as you know

  10. There is a gevaldiga story from the satmar rebbi reb yolish that happened once before pessach . The satmar yeshiva mosdos was not able to make payroll for the teachers due to a lack of funds. A meeting was called at reb yolish house and the rebbi said standing up that although he is very makpid to eat only hand matsos for pessach but since this year there is a lack of funds for payroll in the mosdos he is going to eat machine matsos and will instruct his chassidim to do the same and the difference of the money saved will go to pay payroll before yom tov. The people at meeting were shocked that the holy rebbis minhag will be broken one wealthy chassid stood up and said rebbi rebbi I will pay it all. Its a gevaldiga story and a lesson for us all to do the utmost to support torah institution from failing.

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