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Jewish Journal

Federation to shift funding for schools to scholarships

by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

March 23, 2010 | 7:03 pm

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has announced a new plan to base its annual $1.6 million allocation to day schools on scholarship need, rather than on the number of students in each school.

“We wanted to make sure we were supporting families, pure and simple,” said Jay Sanderson, Federation president. “We are committed to making it easier to get a Jewish education.”

Area schools are reacting with tentative optimism, saying they are awaiting specifics on how the process will work.

There are 9,455 students in 37 day schools in the greater Los Angeles area accredited by BJE (Builders of Jewish Education).

Until now, BJE distributed the Federation’s $1.6 million among schools mostly as a per-student allocation, which worked out to roughly $100 per student and went into a school’s operating budget.

Now, although the total allocation will remain the same, it will not be distributed by BJE. Each school will submit requests for families in need directly to the Federation’s education and engagement pillar, and the money the schools receive will be earmarked for scholarships.

“What we’re trying to do is encourage people to send their children to day schools by providing financial assistance to the families,” said Beryl Geber, Federation associate executive vice president who oversees its engagement and education pillar.

While schools will now have a dent in their budgets where the BJE allocation used to be — and the applications process is likely to become more time-consuming than the automatic handout of the past — schools are hopeful that additional scholarship income will make up the difference or, in some cases, maybe more.

No one knows yet how much this change will impact the bottom line at individual schools, and the answer won’t be known until the process is complete this year.

“I think it’s too early to know whether it’s more of a cosmetic change or if there will be real change in the amount of money,” said Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger, dean of Valley Torah High School, an Orthodox school that has 200 students in separate boys and girls campuses. Stulberger said about 75 percent of his student body receives financial aid, leaving a $1.7 million gap in his $3.2 million annual budget.

“If the formula is based on financial need and families that are in need of help, then I think it can only be beneficial to a school like ours,” said Stulberger.

Orthodox schools, which educate 55 percent of the city’s day school student body, generally spend more of their budgets on scholarships than non-Orthodox schools. That could lead to a denominational imbalance in how the funds are distributed.

Geber said the distribution formula hasn’t been finalized, but it will look at the total needs across the community, taking into account a school’s existing scholarship fund and the demand for financial aid. She said she will have a better idea of specific issues once schools submit their requests in April.

Previously, about $1.2 million was distributed on a per capita basis, and $240,000 went to schools that gave more scholarships. Another roughly $100,000 funded improvement projects. Supplemental schools divvied up $200,000, and a small amount funded early childhood and special needs programs.

Geber said the money for improvement projects and early childhood programs will all go toward the scholarship fund. The funding for supplemental schools will continue through the 2010-2011 school year, while a lay committee reviews how to most effectively help religious schools.

Need continues to grow in all schools — Stephen S. Wise Day School and Milken Community High School, for example, gave away three times as much this year as they did a few years ago.

BJE administers scholarship funds for the Milken Family Foundation, the Lainer Family Foundation and the Candiotty Endowment that distribute about $700,000 annually. Last year, the Jim Joseph Foundation Emergency Cash Grants program committed $2.5 million over two years to Los Angeles day schools, camps and preschools. Federation added $358,000 to the Jim Joseph grants program.

But all of that doesn’t cover a gap of $29 million between tuition revenue and operating costs, according to Gil Graff, executive director of BJE.

Graff believes the new model, which BJE consulted on, could benefit the community.

“I am hoping this approach will be helpful in underscoring the magnitude of the need and potentially serving as an impetus to expanded investment in addressing that need,” Graff said. “Sometimes when you’re able to represent the scope of a challenge in its fullness, it becomes more clear and can serve as an inducement to people who can address the challenges.”

Some principals hope more parents realize there are resources for help, while others said it would help day school parents feel like the community is on their side.

It also means that the Federation will get its name out there more directly as a supporter of Jewish education.

The budget for the Federation’s Jewish Engagement & Education Pillar is $6.8 million. BJE is the largest beneficiary, and money also goes to campus Hillels, Birthright Israel, Zimmer Children’s Museum, JCCs, camps, Israel travel for teens and young adults and outreach programs at high schools.

Of course, many day schools want to see the Federation doing even more.

The $1.6 million allocation has remained relatively constant for around two decades - a sign of steady commitment, especially as allocations to other agencies have been cut, Graff noted. But more is needed.

“The real challenge is to make more funds available so schools can accommodate more students,” Graff said.

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