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.