A Practical Approach to Addressing the Day School Tuition Crunch

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By Moshe Bane

Unaffordable yeshiva tuition often seems like the weather. Everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it. Like so many challenges facing our community, we are content to blame the “system,” assuming there is someone both responsible for addressing the concern and equipped to do so. But, despite our kvetching, we rarely provide sufficient resources to find the necessary solutions. 

Change, however, is in the air.

Our community is on the verge of realizing that solutions are possible with broad communal involvement, hands-on lay involvement, and a willingness to provide appropriate funding and manpower.

The first step in that direction led to an unprecedented breakthrough in New York State’s recent budget, including funding to partially reimburse yeshivos and other nonpublic schools for the costs of providing education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Though historic, this achievement is just a step in the right direction. But it’s a pivotal step that teaches us an important lesson: The lay involvement and communal participation that made the STEM program possible can lead to further success in alleviating the tuition burden.

It all started four years ago, when a “tachlis-focused” discussion regarding the tuition challenge was initiated. A group of parents met in my office, together with representatives of numerous day schools and yeshivos, and representatives of the Orthodox Union. An impressive spectrum of the community was in the room: Yarmulkas of all types; parents and school representatives of single gender and coed day schools; Sephardim and Ashkenazim. In fact, parents in the Syrian community had played the pivotal leadership role. The differences in the room were substantial, but the unity of purpose was even greater. Thus, Teach NYS was born.

The group recognized that our mission raises the tension of balancing the degree of bitachon one can have that G-d will address the need with the degree of hishtadlus that is required to justify the bitachon. We understood that reliance on Divine intervention must be preceded by the minimum human effort that could reasonably achieve the goal. The group therefore tasked the OU’s staff with exploring what effort and expenditure the political marketplace would deem necessary to achieve significant results.

The findings were jarring. Focusing on New York State tuition funding alone would require millions of dollars. Our mission required a significant monetary investment, including professional lobbyists and consultants, and extensive lay involvement would be critical. The reports, however, were also encouraging. The political experts advised that success was achievable with appropriate investment, though certainly not assured. Moreover, there was a consensus that the Jewish community would likely realize a return greater than its investment.

The wheels began to turn. Money was raised from individuals and participating schools. School principals and shul rabbis joined the effort. Most significantly, lay involvement grew.

While by no means intended as exclusive, the OU initially focused on New York State because the state’s over 140,000 yeshiva students represent more than half of the nation’s yeshiva day school population. Moreover, while New York State’s nonpublic school students comprise about 16% of the state’s student population, they receive less than 2% of the state’s education funding. This inequality begs for a solution. The goal, of course, was to expand to other states in the near future.

While achieving substantial, long-lasting tuition relief requires continual focus and effort, the Jewish community’s commitment and investment have begun to bear fruit.

Teach NYS’s efforts, along with those of others, have helped increase New York State funding for nonpublic schools at unprecedented levels. Perhaps most significant, however, is that for the first time in any state, New York State has included STEM funding in its budget. This breakthrough allocation is most significant, as it creates a predicate for substantial further growth in state funding.

The accomplishments to date are impressive, but merely preliminary. If day school parents are to realize the relief they deserve, much work lies ahead. The Orthodox Union is ready to continue our work on this effort, but we call on all segments and members of the community to join. We will need to increase available resources, expand community unity, and, perhaps most importantly, grow active lay participation.

These are the hard realities of hishtadlus. But, as our respective contributions each constitute a tefillah to Hashem for His intervention, and our communal unity serves as the eternal supplication for Hashgocha Protis and siyata diShmaya, we can have bitachon that our pleas will be answered.

Moshe (Mark) Bane is the president of the Orthodox Union. In addition, he is a senior partner at the international law firm of Ropes & Gray, where he is chairman of the firm’s Corporate Restructuring Department. He has written and lectured extensively on Jewish community issues, and is a co-founding editor of the journal, Klal Perspectives.

 

 

7 COMMENTS

  1. I thoroughly appreciate your askanus and hishtadlus.
    However, there is only one real and viable solution.
    Klal yisroel has gevirim on levels like we have never seen before.
    Every real community day school or yeshiva (not sure if this should apply to a private institution) MUST be underwritten by a few gevirim. This should cap tuition at reasonable levels and call for yearly cost of living raises for all rabbeim and teachers.

  2. There are many people living in communities that continue to benefit from having yeshivos in the community but do not feel the need to contribute to their local schools. Either they are retired, married off their children, or have kids thats long ago graduated, and they do not share in the community needs, and contribute. They benefit by having their home prices increase ( due to having a frum insfrastructure), having a frum young growing community around them with all the communal benefits, but instead they give their tzedaka monies to other causes instead of the local yeshivos.
    This is the main untapped source of income that the yeshivos are not benefiting from.
    My kids school sends out 100’s of letters and requests for monies from this resource, and receives about a 5% response rate.
    Of course many of these people are helping support their children, and are paying their grand kids tuition’s, however, many are giving lots of tzedaka elsewhere, or not contributing at all.

    • Sorry, Joey, I totally disagree.

      The primary reason for the lack of financial support for Yeshivas is that parents and grandparents are spending their Tzedukah funds on more and more and more Kollel Yungerliet.

      When I grew up, only 2 or 3 out of 10 Bochurim went on to be “long-term learners”, i.e. more than 3 years in Kollel.

      Today, 7 or 8 out of 10 Bochurim become “long-term” learners. In addition, “short-term learners” are classified as 2 or 3 years in Kollel, while “long-term learners” are a minimum of 7 to 10 years.

      This concept of “Kollel For All” is surely having a negative impact on collecting for schools and shuls.

      • Mr. Brickley is 100% on target.

        Learning in Kollel today has become a “social must” and a “status symbol”, based on family finances rather on the tachlis of learning Torah.

  3. Tell me why should a private Yeshiva get public funding when they have a private school mentality towards running the institution? How many kids are turned away from Yeshivas? A public school wouldn’t turn away a kid! Yeshivas need heavy reform before the deserve public funding!

    • Your last sentence is very true!

      Yeshivas are no longer centers of Torah learning, but rather big businesses for their owners, i.e. the Roshei Yeshivas and their families.

      Positions for Rebbes and Morahs do not go to the most qualified candidates; instead they simply go to the sons, sons-in-laws, and daughters of the Roshei Yeshivas.

      I know of a certain community in the Sun Belt where 7 families – all close relatives of the Rosh Yeshiva – are supported by the one single Yeshiva. It is certainly a thriving business.

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