Jewish Journal


January 2, 2003

Creative Ideas Tried to Fund Tuition Aid


A Jewish grandmother caring for her two grandsons was eagerto send them to Huntington Beach Hebrew School so that they could learn about their ancestry. However, she only had a limited income, and the tuition cost is $7,500 a year. But thanks to an "angel" who paid their full tuition, the boys were able to enroll.

While 100 percent subsidies are the exception among Jewish day schools, high tuition forces most campuses to extend financial aid to one-third or more of their students to ensure that no one is turned away who is qualified.

To cope with growing requests for financial aid, as well as routine budget deficits unmet by tuition, day schools around the country are trying an array of creative ideas. Filling annual deficits by fundraising is a heavy duty added to the workload of private school administrators and lay leaders, who are reluctant to scrimp on staff or enrichment programs to meet budget shortfalls.

In Texas, to ensure that lump-sum tuition payments do not discourage enrollment, one campus relies on a local bank to grant no-interest tuition loans to parents. In Seattle, for each student enrolled, schools can count on an unusual tuition subsidy from a private foundation that is nondenominational in its financial support. In a creative use of tax law, soon-to-be grandparents in New York will be encouraged to establish tax-deductible remainder trusts for newborns that, with compounding, should create a day school tuition kitty by school age.

Among Orange County's three Jewish day schools, only the largest is financially secure enough to start inching toward self-financing its own deficits.

That isn't the case at the smallest, Rancho Santa Margarita's Morasha Jewish Day School, which holds classes in portable trailers. Besides needing to fill one-third of its $1 million annual budget to keep the lights on, this year, Morasha will also start the first phase of an expected $9 million capital campaign to erect permanent classrooms. About one-third of its 101 students in kindergarten through fifth grade receive aid in paying the $7,950 in annual tuition.

"The board of directors does soliciting," said Eve Fein, the school's director. "They're what keeps the place going financially."

At Irvine's Tarbut V'Torah Community Day School, this year's budget deficit is $2.5 million. Last summer, the school completed its new high school, hired its first professional development director and its founder, Irving Gelman, helped establish a $5 million scholarship endowment.

The school's income shortfall includes $954,000 in tuition subsidies for about one- third of Tarbut's 570 students. Their parents pay from $8,000 to $11,000 in annual tuition for schooling in grades kindergarten through 12, respectively.

Tarbut makes it mandatory that parents contribute toward scholarships, last year raising $340,000 at a dinner. This year's event is Jan. 25 at Irvine's Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Only recently have school leaders started to make philanthropic pitches to parents. Previously, individual benefactors each year picked up the Tarbut's deficit.

"We need to wean ourselves and become independent," said Doris Jacobson, the school's development director.

At Hebrew Academy, the county's oldest and most traditional school, two-thirds of the 400 students receive help paying the annual tuition. Filling the nearly $1 million deficit in the school's $2.5 million budget is expected to be more difficult this year, because of the economic downturn, predicted Rabbi Yitzchak Newman, the school's director. "We're just working harder and smarter," he said.

"There's a tremendous burden placed on schools because of the rising cost of Jewish education," said Marc N. Kramer, executive director of New York-based RAVSK, a network of 79 schools unaffiliated by movement. So-called community schools are the fastest growing segment among the nation's 800 Jewish day schools, which remain predominantly Orthodox.

"Schools are forced to do significant fundraising," Kramer said. "Even when the economy is good, it's hard to do."

Though qualms about prestige and quality are often cited as deterrents for prospective enrollees, lack of affordability remains a hindrance to broadening the appeal of day schools to an already skeptical audience, said Yossi Prager, executive director of New York's Avi Chai Foundation.

The foundation put its thesis to a test in Cleveland and Atlanta beginning in 1997. To determine if a tuition subsidy could attract students who had already decided on an alternative to a Jewish day school, the foundation agreed to underwrite tuition for each child who enrolled by $12,000 over four years. About 213 students did.

"That's evidence of something," Prager said. "This is why there needs to be additional resources."

Orange County's Jewish Federation distributed 22 percent of its contributions, totaling $1.9 million last year, to day schools. "Always we have less money than needs," said Bunnie Mauldin, the Federation's executive director.

While the issue of funding Jewish education is on the agenda of national Jewish organizations, actual funding is not keeping pace. Two years ago, the United Jewish Communities (UJC) pledged its 189 federations as advocates for day schools and created a council to resolve day school issues, such as affordability. One of the first products of that effort, an analysis of tuition reduction strategies, will be presented Feb. 3 as part of a council conference in Los Angeles. 

"It was a sea change," said Steven P. Kraus, director of school support for the UJC's education arm,The Jewish Education Service of North America.

If so, headmasters and principals have yet to see much consequence.

"A sea change is when money arrives, not just a change in perception," Prager said. "If there's been an enormous change of heart, it hasn't translated into a significant change in resources."

Some see education funding as the figurative thumb in the dike. "Only 15 percent of Jewish families are affiliated with any Jewish organization," said Newman, adding that a day school education has lifelong impact. "This is providing for a Jewish future."  

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