More than half the students in Los Angeles Jewish day schools receive financial aid to pay tuition, which runs between $12,000 and $30,000 per year. And with both tuition and the number of students requiring aid expected to continue climbing, BJE: Builders of Jewish Education is partnering with local donors and national organizations both to alleviate the immediate crisis and work toward long-term solutions for lowering the cost of Jewish education.
Last week, BJE announced that Los Angeles is one of three cities to split a $3.1 million Generations grant from the AVI CHAI Foundation and the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) that will provide seven day schools with financial aid dollars and training and resources necessary for developing an endowment capable of spinning off funds in perpetuity. BJE raised $600,000 to match AVI CHAI’s contribution to secure the grant, and is now accepting applications from elementary, middle and high schools.
“If you look at what is happening in the school world, the schools and universities that are successful and able to weather the economy are those that have big endowments. So we set that as a high priority,” said Miriam Prum Hess, director of BJE’s Center for Excellence in Day School Education.
Only a few of Los Angeles’ 38 Jewish day schools have any sort of endowment, and the Generations grant joins other initiatives that in the last few years have focused on endowment.
A Jim Joseph Foundation grant totaling $12.7 million gave five Los Angeles Jewish high schools money to provide scholarships to middle-class families who earn too much to qualify for financial aid but still struggle to pay tuition. The grant came with funds to hire and train development staff, and required schools to raise their own monies for endowment.
Now completing the second year of a six-year cycle, the five high schools have raised a combined $2.3 million for their endowments.
“It’s difficult to think endowment when you need to raise money to keep the lights on,” said Larry Gill, board president of Shalhevet, where tuition for next year is $27,250. “But the reason the Jim Joseph program has been so effective is that it has really forced discipline on us. It’s sort of like a 401(k) — it forced us to put money away for the future.”
The grant also enabled Shalhevet to hire two full-time development professionals. Gill says Shalhevet is well on the way toward securing pledges of $500,000 for the endowment to meet a June 30 grant deadline.
BJE itself has secured pledges of nearly $10 million for a community fund that, starting in 2012, will add 25 cents to every dollar schools raise for endowment. The community fund, also a requirement for the Jim Joseph Foundation grant, was seeded with a $5 million matching challenge from the Simha and Sara Lainer Family Foundation. BJE has set a target of $100 million total for the community fund combined with the schools’ individual endowments, but Prum Hess says that number will have to grow to meet the community’s growing needs. More than half of the 9,500 students in BJE-affiliated schools are projected to receive financial aid next year.
To further help schools build fundraising infrastructure, BJE set up the Leadership and Fundraising Academy (LFA), an 18-month program for administrators and lay leaders, funded by a grant from Peter and Janine Lowy.
Sinai Akiba is one of the few schools in Los Angeles to have an endowment — a $7 million fund it started in the 1980s — and participation in LFA has enabled it to broaden its fundraising activities and focus its mission, according to headmaster Rabbi Larry Scheindlin.
“The thing we have learned most from the LFA process is that it is educational quality that drives the future of the school and carries the school into a virtuous cycle of enrollment and fundraising,” Scheindlin said. “It’s a terrible mistake to think that you can cut back on educational quality in order to lower tuition and thereby sustain enrollment.”
Rather, he said, Sinai Akiba has set tuition where it needs to be — $19,400 for the lower school, $21,600 for the middle school for the 2011-12 academic year — and increased its financial aid program, going from 15 percent of students a few years ago to 27 percent this year. The school has actively recruited and offered aid to families who thought they couldn’t afford a Jewish education.
Prum Hess says the presence of the LFA and the success of the Jim Joseph grant helped Los Angeles win the AVI CHAI grant, which relies on training existing development staff.
BJE raised $600,000 to qualify for the matching grant, then raised additional money to offer each of the seven schools $52,000 over three years, rather than the $25,000 prescribed by AVI CHAI. The hope is that the scholarship money, though a modest amount compared to the need, will alleviate some immediate stress and stabilize enrollment, and allow schools to develop their capacity to raise endowment funds, Prum Hess said.
In addition to the cash infusion, each school will receive five days of coaching with an experienced fundraiser and marketing materials that schools can customize. A BJE staff person, hired with the grant money, will serve as a resource to guide schools through the process of shoring up its fundraising apparatus.
The help, according to Shalhevet’s Gill, can’t come soon enough.
“If things continue in the current crescendo of cost versus money earned, in a very short amount of time the advantage of a Jewish education will be the purview of the extremely wealthy only. And that would be a disaster,” Gill said.