By Avi Gutfreund. The majority of us who aren’t millionaires (and even some who are) have to prioritize where our money will be spent. At the very top of the priorities totem pole is our desire to have our children receive a top-class education, one which will enable them to become the very best people they can be. To achieve this end, we will happily forego vacations, work multiple jobs, scrape together nickels, anything really, to assure our children’s future. Although everyone reading this can attest to this truth, an oft-cited question remains: are our schools too expensive? Must it be that the majority of families struggle to pay their children’s schools tuition?
In a recent poll on TLS, a majority of respondents said that tuitions are not too expensive. Community residents are of the understanding that schools are difficult and expensive to run, and therefore must charge hefty tuitions. A woman commenting on the poll said that although she can barely afford her kids tuition, she does not think it costs too much because of the expense of managing a school. I believe this attitude is common and pervasive in the community, and is quite commendable. My only issue with it is that a large percentage of our schools, although being nonprofits, are run as businesses, with someone at the top bringing home a 6-figure check. While there is nothing inherently improper with that, if schools would be run as a community endeavor, rather than an individual or individuals creating a school in which children can grow along with their bank account balances, I think we could lighten the financial load on parents.
Another point regarding tuition costs is that Lakewood schools are substantially cheaper than schools in other areas, such as Brooklyn and the 5 Towns. While there is no disputing that, I wonder if our school’s budgets can be streamlined to be more efficient with our money. Besides for my suggestion that schools should be handled as a community venture, I think another way schools can be made cheaper is by eliminating the need for a fancy building. It seems to me that everywhere you turn, another school is raising a multimillion dollar edifice. Although the cost of the structure is usually footed by a donor, the fact is that the upkeep of expensive building are far more than that of a more “regular” school building. The upkeep costs are a significant strain on a schools budget, money which could otherwise be kept in parents pockets, or at the very least be allocated to the salaries of our rebbeim and teachers.
My third and final suggestion (for now) is to make community-wide lobbying effort for our politicians, both in New Jersey and on the national level, to fund vouchers for private schools. As it stands now, parents of children sent to public school don’t need to worry about paying tuition – it’s covered by the state. It is only logical that parents of private school students, who decrease the state’s education obligations and budgets, should receive some amount of financial incentive. One obvious reason why vouchers don’t exist yet is because the politicians know that they are unnecessary. A frum Jew isn’t going to start sending his or her kids to a public school, depriving them of a proper Jewish education, because the state won’t assist with paying tuition. I think we need to change that perception. Politicians are aware that we vote in blocs, and to gain our support for their candidacies they must support and push for legislation which would provide funding for parents sending their children to private schools. This wouldn’t be a simple task, and is an extraordinarily complex task, but as a unified community, we can affect these crucial and necessary changes.