October 21, 2012
The Challenge of Day School Affordability: Keeping our Eyes on the Prize!
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-$20,000 per student per year, with some charging more than $30,000 year. Among the schools charging the highest tuition is the Milken Community High School in Los Angeles, where the annual tuition is $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?
Families are struggling to meet costs in our recession, and this issue must be addressed more urgently. Furthermore, as Jews, we have major philanthropic responsibilities to address locally, nationally, and globally. A primary purpose of our day school system must be to train our children to fulfill these global moral responsibilities. If the day school system cripples our potential as givers, it has defeated its purpose. If day schools decrease in number and reach, the number of Jewish children who identify with Jewish values such as tzedakah and tikkun olam will also decrease. This in turn will lead to fewer contributions to the vulnerable and poor in our society, let alone to Jewish day schools. We need to prevent this cascade of problems. For one example of an initiative that is working to tackle this issue, see the Jewish Day School Affordability Knowledge Center, a joint project between the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education and the Orthodox Union.
The day school system is potentially the most powerful way of educating, empowering, and activating our Jewish youth base to grow as global Jewish leaders, and is therefore crucial to the future of the Jewish community. We must reprioritize our wealth to ensure that we leverage our personal and communal funds to address the most pressing moral issues of our time. If we do not repair our financially broken day school system, we risk becoming overwhelmed by its burden and becoming less relevant in the cosmic unfolding of human history. Now is the time to change the paradigm.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder and President of Uri L'Tzedek, the Senior Rabbi at Kehilath Israel, and is the author of "Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century." Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America!"