Dan Perla on Day School Tuition- income-based is OK, fair share is not

Two years ago I  argued here and  in the Forward   for fair-share, income based tuition for day schools, meaning everyone pays a certain percentage of their income, the percentage can be sliding but it is a percentage for everyone, even those not requiring tuition assistance.

Dan Perla of Avi Chai responded that it was an unsustainable model and not a useful solution. After giving examples of schools (some Jewish schools, some elite private schools) where a tuition cap and income percentage do not cover costs, he wrote:

To be sure, in most day schools across the US and North America, a $36,000 tuition cap would create financial sustainability. But a price hike to this level would run the risk of alienating wealthy families and encouraging them to explore other options—lower priced day schools, or for the same money elite private schools. It would also have a dampening effect on voluntary giving. ….

According to statistics compiled by Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership … the average day school raises 20% or more of its budget from fundraising.  Much of this money comes from day school parents who voluntarily give more than required.  At the SAR Academy, the day school that my children attend, there are at least a dozen families that voluntarily donate $100,000 each per year.  If we suddenly forced these wealthier families to pay 50% more in tuition by virtue of their income, I strongly believe that their voluntary giving would plummet.  I know mine would.

This response is problematic in two ways. The first is a practical, logical one -if wealthier families had to pay fair share tuition, then the schools wouldn’t need as much supplementary, voluntary fundraising (which is part of the point of fair share tuition as I described it). The second is a about Jewish ethics and the point of Jewish day school. As I wrote on his blog:

Your response is that if we did what was equitable (and what was ethical Jewishly, in my opinion) and asked everyone to pay the same percentage of their income on tuition (or even close to it) that we currently ask of parents who are on subsidies, we would not have a sustainable system because wealthier parents would refuse to pay that amount. What does that say about the culture of Jewish education? How does that sentiment in any way match what we teach about ethical behaviour and communal obligation inside the day school classrooms?

He concluded his post with his idea for funding day schools: Community funding

The money was raised from over 1,000 individuals, the majority of whom are non-day school parents. NNJKIDS is now looking at much more ambitious goals for communal funding that could more radically change today’s tuition model. It is said that a rising tide lifts all boats.  Communal funding for day schools might just be the high tide that the Jewish community has been waiting for.

Now he has a new article in the Jewish Week proposing another solution instead, income-based tuition caps (!).

While both the income range and the percentage cap would vary slightly among schools, qualifying families would be expected to pay the lesser of full tuition or 15 percent of pre-tax income.

The difference between his proposal and my original one is the equitable, fair share part where everyone pays a percentage of their income, even those who do not need assistance. This, ironically would actually make his model more financially sustainable, not less. It also does not address the shame of the application process. Finally, fair share is in keeping with what we are taught in Shulchan Aruch about Jewish communal obligation, (which I learned in an AVI CHAI report.)

In a place in which the residents of a city establish among them a teacher, and the fathers of [all] the children cannot afford tuition, and the community will have to pay, the tax is levied based on financial means. Rema, Shulchan Aruch, (Choshen Mishpat 163:3) 

The tuition conversation can be a session in Jewish ethical education for the parent who is reluctant to pay. Because teaching and applying Jewish ethics should be the mission of day schools.

12 thoughts on “Dan Perla on Day School Tuition- income-based is OK, fair share is not

  1. Mark Matchen

    I like the idea of eliminating the idea of a “tuition”. If human nature is shown to be such that high income families feel hard done by with assessments above a certain level and will actually contribute less, then we have to live with that. Instead of a “full tuition”, set salary percentage to a certain maximum, and allow those families to continue to feel like they’re donating the rest. Or if you like, require an additional payment from them, but in the form of a major donation for which they can have their names stuck on a wall or whatever. This might not be ideal, but there’s nothing wrong with it. The “shame” of the application isn’t really an issue, since there’s no actual issue of subsidy, and everyone fills out the same form with the same process.

    1. rainbowtallitbaby Post author

      Mark, I am ok with this I guess as long as the maximum allows the school to be financially viable and that everyone has to submit their documents for the sake of fairness ( pay a huge “donation” to allow them to skip the paperwork). And there is not a lot of evidence that wealthy families will stop giving (except for Dan Perla’s opinion). Also, if there were a percentage based tuition, and a few wealthy donors left because their needs for kavod via plaques was not being met, the school would still be fine without them. Being dependent on a few wealthy donors is bad for a school. And sometime it is what raises the costs of tuition for everyone because the wealthiest demand a level of extras that are not needed and drive costs up.

  2. Dan Ab

    I think the big difference between Perla’s past piece on income-based tuition and the current piece was that, in the past one he insisted such a model is not financially sustainable, now he ignores any serious discussion of financial sustainability. Your model might be more financially sustainable, but that doesn’t mean it is sustainable. Also, if the very rich are giving a percentage to day school tuition, what other charitable contributions are they cutting? Is it ok to give less to feeding the poor? Donations aren’t completely 1-to-1, but there is a relationship.

    The real solution is to accept that universal day school education (secular + Judaics) has never existed in history. Even 30% of Jewish children in day schools has never been sustainable, and probably will never be sustainable. We need great day schools to provide an elite education to many (a combination of the wealthy and scholarships). For everyone else, we also need more high quality and affordable options that provide the necessary education to create knowledgable and active Jewish adults.

    1. rainbowtallitbaby Post author

      First here in Toronto we have more 30% of Jewish kids in day school and have for many years.

      I do agree we need more support for high quality and affordable options- informal education, formal after school programs ( like the one I know of Kesher Newton which seems excellent), Jewish day cares, youth groups and camps.

      I really disagree that day school should be for the elite- whether we are talking those with a lot of money or those who are academically advanced ( and how can you tell in kindergarten?). Day school should be for those who are interested in have that level of Jewish education for their kids. They shouldn’t offer an elite private school education in terms of secular studies, but the equivalent of a good public school. As long as the other options you discuss are really strong and well supported there should be a place for everyone, depending on what they want.

      1. Dan Ab

        rainbowtallitbaby, I’m not sure you’re statistics are correct for Toronto Jewish schools. This is your locale so, perhaps I’m grabbing non-ideal sources. Still, the Canadian Journal of Education 27, 4 (2002): 379–398 http://www.peje.org/docs/GrowthToronto.pdf says “Data from the Toronto Board of Jewish Education (Shoub & Levine, 2002) indicate that day-school growth in the Greater Toronto Area has continued at a steady pace over the last two decades with, on average, one new school opening every year. In 2002, there were 20 day schools at the elementary level and 14 at the high school level, a small number of which were, for the first time, religiously pluralist in ethos. The elementary school population had increased to a little fewer than 9,000 (constituting about 34% of the total Jewish school-age population) and the high-school population to more than 2,600. In the meantime, the number of students attending supplementary schools had dipped below 5,500, constituting less than one third of the children enrolled in Jewish schools of any kind.” Later the article says, “It seems, then, that the proportion of 6- to13-year-old Jewish children attending elementary day school actually fell from 34.4% in 1981 to 30% in 1991.”

        Here’s an article from 2007 that also cites elementary day school enrollments around 30%. http://www.jewishreview.org/wire/Toronto-day-schools-a-model

        It seems to me that Toronto day schools have enrolled 30% +/- a few percent. However you define enrollment criteria, an institution that serves only a third of the population is an elite institution. I don’t think this type of elitism is necessarily a problem, but it is what it is. The problem, as the quote above states is that, while the day school numbers are roughly stable, the supplementary school enrollments are dropping and the number of Jewish children with no formal Jewish education is increasing. That IS a problem.

        I don’t know what the larger solution is, but I’m part of a growing network of programs, like Kesher, that are trying to use the after school hours for more education. I work with MoEd, but here is a list of some of the other programs. http://www.nitzan.org/affiliated-programs.html They include the Downtown Jewish Playschool in Toronto.

      2. rainbowtallitbaby Post author

        Hi Dan,
        I am not sure what the quibble is about re: Toronto we do have as you cite 30% +/- enrolled in day school.

        I think that even if tuition were free you would not see enrollment in day school top 60%. Ideally day school should be for people who are interested in a certain level and a certain style of religious education for their kids. Not every Jew wants that, nor should they be made to feel that they should. There should be a varity of high quality programs for people to choose from based on their interest and needs.
        The barrier to that education in whatever format should not be cost, though.

        I am familiar with the Makom playschool.

        As a past teacher of afternoon school and as the wife of someone who attended afternoon school all the through high school in the past ( ne of the more intensive and higher quality ones of the time), I can tell you that there are certain things you cannot achive through supplementary education, usually Hebrew fluency and breadth of knowledge.

        Also as a parent of 3, I am not sure when I would do homework, music lessons, sports, chore teaching, checking in with my kids if I had them in an after school program 3-5 evenings a week ( andy less and you cannot teach anything useful) as the younger ones need to go to bed soon after dinner.

        I think in general we agree in what there should be, I certainly support your efforts. But I also do no think that day school is or should be for an elite.

      3. Dan Ab

        I just posted a comment with a few links. I looks like it might have been auto-filtered away.

  3. Tommie S. Duffy

    While two Jewish day schools have implemented a hard AGI tuition cap (SSDS and Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh), other schools use a percentage of AGI as a useful guideline in financial aid. One school uses 10%-12% as a reasonable range; another tries to limit tuition to just 10% of AGI.

  4. marc

    Parents should be asked too pay for their children tuition.
    Parents should not be asked too pay for another kids tuition. When a school asks for 15,000-22,000 dollars in tuition, and that same school has in it 20-25 kids per class. You have too ask where is the money going.
    1) It is going to a bloated admin, which might be true
    2) It is going too pay for kids whose parents cant afford tuition.

    If a parent wants too pay for someone elses child that is great. That should be an option they have, but it should not be forced.
    For those who cant afford too pay tuition, it is time that those family try too figure out a way too make it work, rather then asking the middle class people too struggle. If a parent income is so low that they cant pay, then perhaps they should send their kids too public school or move somewhere where the cost of living is lower.

    For information, we could not afford the tuition in the day school where we were living,
    so we moved too a community that we could afford, and were able too pay our fair share of the tuition.

  5. abbbz

    Unfortunately I am not able to send my kids to a Jewish Day School. It is not within my means. I just don’t understand why the cost is so high? For me to send my 3 kids (they are all not old enough yet but if they were) to elementary school it would cost in the world of $44,000.00 a year. That is more than my yearly income. There are minimal scholarships available but what really gets me annoyed is the discounts to the teachers and the scholarships to the parents that then take their families on expensive vacations, or make extensive additions on their homes. My sons pre nursery teachers aid (he went to a JDS for a half a day that cost me $6,000.00 that took me 2 years to pay off) bragged in an offhand way how she got a discount for her kids because she worked in the school as well as a large scholarship, and then took the family to Hawaii on winter break. Its just sick. I went to JDS through High School and now I am not the only Jewish Education my kids get.

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