Day school tuition: A heartfelt plea and hope via income caps.

It pains me to read yet an another article on how hard it is for middle class parents (and I mean even “upper-middle class”, meaning often people who are in the top 15% of the income scale nationally)  to pay for day school and how their huge financial sacrifice is not honoured the way wealthy people would be if they gave that high a percentage of their income to day schools.

In Living in Fear of a Jewish Education Ami Goldman writes:

We only travel to visit family and don’t have any other vacations. We’ve cancelled our magazine subscriptions one by one. With family help, we managed to buy a house because the mortgage payments are cheaper than rent. I can do most repairs myself, but for the moment we’re living with drafty windows and some broken plumbing because we can’t afford the parts. When we did have a big, unexpected repair that needed to be done immediately, it wiped out our emergency fund. But we keep making our day school payments.

We don’t got to the movies. We don’t go out to dinner. We try to live as simply as we can. But there never seems to be enough. And when our child needed a medical therapy, we put it on hold because we can’t afford it. In a few years when they will need braces, I have no idea how we are going to come up with the money. But we keep making the day school payments.

You can add this to the list I mentioned earlier in Day School Funding if Done According to Jewish Tradition:

In response to these articles and to schools in financial crisis and to schools closing due to lack of students, some  day schools are experimenting with a  15 percent of the family’s adjusted gross income (AGI) cap, (which has half of my fairshare proposal, but not the part where everyone pays a certain percentage of their income, even if it is more than tuition, which would make things more sustainable). See How Can Jewish Day Schools Effectively Make Their Schools Affordable for The New Middle Class? and  Putting A Cap On Day School Tuitions. The program is more financially sustainable than one might think at first pass, because a lot of families who would not send their kids at all, come when they have that reassurance.

A lot of angst and suffering would be avoided if all day schools followed suit.

It is encouraging to see PEJE finally acknowledge the “bar-bell effect” in a recent article (How Can Jewish Day Schools Effectively Make Their Schools Affordable for The New Middle Class?). The “bar bell effect” refers to students from higher-income and lower-income families disproportionately represented among the student body, with a very few students in the middle income brackets. The authors  talk about why this structure is financially unhealthy for a school. The next step would be to talk about why it is socially and spiritually unhealthy for a school.

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3 Responses to Day school tuition: A heartfelt plea and hope via income caps.

  1. Dan Ab says:

    I read, but I don’t think I commented on your earlier posts. Jewish tradition says absolutely nothing about funding Jewish day schools. It does place a communal value on funding Jewish education in addition to supporting those in need of food, etc. While I think Jewish day schools are important, it is a big stretch to say that we should spend all of our Jewish education charity on the third of Jewish children attending day schools or who might possibly attend day schools in North America.
    The trouble is that the day school costs are mind-bogglingly huge. The AVI CHAI foundation’s 2001 report ( http://avichai.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Dollars-Sense.pdf ) placed the cost at $10K/student for a total of $2billion/year just to maintain the status quo. Given inflation and the recent increases in day school costs, I think it’s safe to double that number to maintain approximately the exact same status quo. Whether the money is from parents paying 15% of their income or other donations, it’s still $4 billion. What isn’t the $4 billion being spent on if it goes to day school education? Who’s funding the 2/3 of Jewish kids not in day schools? Who’s helping house and feed the actual poor? These are values from our Jewish tradition too. I do believe that day schools’ importance make them worth a disproportionate about of our communal education charity, but at what point do these contributions conflict with our other charitable responsibilities?

    • Hi Dan,
      I think that there is a place for substantive afternoon school, summer camp and youth groups; they should be supported and funded. Day school is not necessary or desired by everyone. But it should be available to people who want it. And many if not most formal and lay community leaders are day school graduates, so there is some giving back. And of course we need to serve our communities’ basic needs. (Though in my community lots of money goes to fancy shiny buildings or even to literal pits in the ground as well as other wasteful things).
      I do not think it should be free. Even now the vast majority of day school operating costs are paid by tuition from parents- so all your figures should be reduced by at least a half, if not 2/3rds. Income caps make it affordable to those willing to pay 15% of their income, which is still not peanuts. Fair share would make it even more sustainable.
      There are other ways to reduce costs. (Bulk buying of text books and supplies- in my city there are many day schools that use the same text books- do they get together to get a bulk discount from the supplier- nope! Sharing part time specialists? Ending the “elite private school” mentality in many days schools).

  2. Dan Ab says:

    I agree that there should be community support for day schools, but I’m not sure there is an inherent reason why the community should spend the billions of dollars needed to make it available to everyone who wants it. It’s a position I understand, but it’s not based on Jewish tradition.

    My other concern is that, even with the 15% cap, one is saying that during the years ones kid is getting an education, almost all of one’s potential charitable giving should go to day schools. It’s fine for individual families to make that decision, but it doesn’t sit well with me as a communal value. Saving a few on books doesn’t hit the bottom line of schools much. The core is hiring good teachers. If you need to hire people to teach secular subjects in addition to Judaics, there is no way around that. Perhaps day schools can be slightly cheaper, but they’ll still be expensive.

    As for giving back, the group of people that most disproportionally represented in Jewish leadership is children of communal Jewish professionals. (See table 7 at: http://avichai.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Generation-of-Change-FINAL.pdf ) There is probably a good bit of overlap between being the child of a communal professional & a day school student, but I wouldn’t place that outcome on day school attendance. Jewish camp, youth groups, & Hillel participation also all dwarf day school attendance in raw percentage of leadership. I’ve yet to see a study that clearly isolates the day school attendance effect on future Jewish leadership. Do you know of any?

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