In religious Jewish communities, the affordability of day schools is one of the most discussed social challenges. Supporting vibrant, successful, viable Jewish day schools is no less than supporting the Jewish future — our children are our future, and the values we demonstrate and pass on will determine what they will do with the torch when they are its bearers.
Rising school costs along with a continuing recession have combined to create a crisis in the survival of Jewish day schools. While estimates vary, it is clear that tuition costs have outstripped the ability of many families to pay. One report in 2010 estimated that most Jewish day schools charged about $15,000 to $20,000 per student per year, with some charging more than $30,000 year. Among the schools charging the highest tuition is Milken Community High School in Los Angeles, where the annual tuition is reported as $32,155. In addition, there is an annual security fee of $700, and new students pay a one-time fee of $1,500. This does not count the expected parental contribution toward several fundraising efforts each year or the flat fee for textbooks. To be sure, the school offers a high-quality Jewish education, but how many families can afford to send their children there?
At the other end of the day school spectrum are the elementary and middle schools of Baltimore, which average $8,650 per student annually. While this sounds reasonable, it should be remembered that the average annual gross income of Baltimore families is far less than $50,000. Thus, an Orthodox family that sends three children to day school will spend $25,950 each year in tuition. After taxes and synagogue expenses, Orthodox Baltimore households are using all available funds for day school. The continuing Great Recession has exacerbated this crisis, and scholarship money is not often available. Many families are now at — or past — the point where they can afford to send their children to day school. As Zipora Schorr of Baltimore’s Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School noted: “Those for whom day schools are expendable will opt-out unless we find a way to keep them there — this is the biggest crisis to our Jewish future.”
Read the rest of this article in Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz's blog, Social Justice Rav.