A New, Ugly Wrinkle in the Tuition Crisis

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tuitionDear Editor,

I take the liberty of sharing some very important thoughts from Yitzchok Adlerstein on Cross-Currents regarding the tuition crisis.

I present some excerpts of what he wrote:

There is a new kind of captive in the making, but do not expect to see any pidyon shvuyim effort on his or her behalf. This new prisoner is a sad by-product of the tuition crisis, and has not yet impressed people as worthy of inclusion on the short list of the most serious problems over which we agonize. Yet it is pitting whole groups of frum Jews against others, and threatens a dynamic of cooperation that has worked for as long as people can remember. The working professional increasingly feels frustrated and alienated by the “system” – at least insofar as it relates to the finances of mosdos of chinuch.

We all know that schools are growing more desperate in addressing shortfalls in revenue brought on by escalating costs and a prolonged ailing economy. Schools have little control over external funding like donations, so they push where they can, which increasingly means the portion of the parent body that they perceive to have some wiggle room. They can’t squeeze those who simply don’t have, so they raise tuition year after year. They know that the poor and the underemployed won’t produce more, but they are all on tuition assistance. Where there are no sugar-daddies available, it is the middle class that is asked to cough up more each year, subsidizing those who are in far more desperate financial straits.

Actually, they are not asked. They are told. The money is demanded, and they have no choice but to comply. In many communities, there are no alternative schools that will meet their expectations of Torah chinuch. They can be made to dance like puppets on a string. They are trapped by the “system:” they cannot deny Torah education to their children, so they have no choice but to sign over a progressively part of their income to their schools. They are trapped, as surely as is the shavui.

The reader will marvel at how selfish and uncharitable these people are! They should be grateful to the Ribbono Shel Olam that they are in a position to be able to give more, and not among those who have to take more!

Not so fast.

There are very few among the bulk of the working middle class who are earning so much that they can afford to pay tuition levies for multiple children without belt tightening, even with a spouse working part- or full-time. Day-school tuitions can commonly run 12-25K per child, and even higher. Non-commuter high schools take an even bigger bite. Do the arithmetic, and calculate what that means for a family with four, five, or more children in Torah schools – but translate the figures into the pre-tax dollars that are necessary to generate those sums.

Here is where it gets ugly. I wouldn’t write about this so openly if this were not already the dirty secret that everybody knows. The changed realities of the New Economy mean that people are having fewer children. They would like to have more children; they are not electing otherwise because they want summer homes, new cars, and Pesach in Italy. Those are not part of the equation. They are limiting family size because they cannot see how, bederech hateva, they can fork over those tuition checks for another child.

This equation is creating class warfare, of the kind that we may not have seen since people with means bought replacements for their children drafted during the dark days of the Cantonist decrees. The poor were victimized by the “khappers” who seized their children to replace those of the rich. Today, the unborn children of the more well to-do are being seized by tuition policies of day schools. And the resentment of the middle class is focused not only on the school board, but on the less affluent.

What the system lacks is an understanding that when a tuition break is given, that money is not “free;” someone pays for it. By granting tuition breaks to those employed by mosdos, the system has simply shifted the burden of raising those necessary funds from the mosod to the school, and by extension, to the middle-class parents who have no choice but to pay the resulting increased “full” tuition amount in the most tax-inefficient way imaginable. Were the system not shifting tuition burdens in this way, each mosad would have to raise tution dollars for its employees and balei battim would have a choice as to whether or not to donate to the mosdos. If they chose to – and many would if tuition burdens were relaxed – their donations would be tax deductible. Instead, balei baatim are forced to subsidize mosdos through a chinuch “tax.” often at the cost of increased working hours and/or spouses working who might not otherwise. Many balei baatim would willingly support local mosdos but few would have their spouse take a job solely to do so. Our current burden-shifting system often leaves them no choice.

Please, dear reader, do not shoot the messenger. I am conveying facts and feelings, not a halachic analysis nor hashkafic advice. There is a groundswell of resentment of the kind I described above. Getting angry at me will not make it go away. I am reporting reality, not taking sides.

The middle class feels played and extorted.

Is this a new problem? Yes! The gemara solved it, in earlier times. Mi-dina d’gemara, the entire community, not just the parent body of a particular school, pays for the chinuch of local children. The entire community can be assessed and made to pay for essential services. According to teshuvos over centuries, the some assessments are spread equally, and some are graduated according to income. In many cases, a compromise was implemented whereby half of it was a head tax, and the other half graduated.) The disappearance of the kehillah system, however, means that what should be happening according to halacha is not an option. We have no way of taxing the rich.

A generation ago, the problem was not as ubiquitous as it is today. Schools lived with the reality that fundraising would account for a large part, if not the majority, of the yearly budget. Much has changed since then. The numbers of children in schools was a fraction of what it is today, and a smaller number of gevirim (particularly Holocaust survivors who had done extremely well on American shores, and understood the need to support new mosdos of Torah) gave generously. Non-Orthodox Jews were approachable as donors for heimishe tzedakos; today, secular Jewish donors direct most of their money to non-Jewish projects. People did not question as much the “entitlement” of underpaid klei kodesh to subsidized tuition for their children.

I propose no solutions to this problem, no more than I can to the overall tuition crisis. I have proposed a contribution to a solution, however, and I will reiterate it. Our tzedaka giving is governed by nothing by hefkerus, while it should be guided by halacha. We need to educate – and, yes, enforce – the destination of tzedakah funds. Some poskim feel that 2/3 or more of our charitable funds stay local. Let’s be liberal, for the sake of argument, and only ask for half, as Baltimore did a few years ago on a voluntary basis. Schools, perhaps, cannot live with voluntarism. Part of granting tuition assistance should be an examination of charitable giving. Schools could stipulate (assuming poskim would agree with such a proposal) that they are entitled to a given (large) percentage of the 50% of the portion earmarked for local need. (Yes, there would have to be some way to accommodate families sending children to multiple schools.) It won’t balance the budget, but it could ease the escalating burden now placed on the successfully employed.

Those are the thoughts of Rabbi Adlerstein.

I have my own experiences that I can share, but as someone who has gone broke over paying tuition, he made my point well enough.

I am crying for answers to how many more hours I can work each week to somehow pay my bills and cover tuition for my children. I am on the verge of collapse.


A Frustrated Parent


The Matzav Shmoooze is a regular feature on Matzav.com that allows all readers to share a thought or analysis, long or short, one sentence or several paragraphs long, on any topic, for readers to mull over and comment on. Email submissions to [email protected]

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  1. I”yH I will daven for you during Baruch Alainu. A couple of years ago someone else posted a similar note on Matzav and I have been davening for him since. I will try to do the same for you. I wish you much bracha v’hatzolcha.

  2. The old Cheder system was much cheaper. A group of parents can hire a Melamed to learn with their children in a local Shul. You’ll be saving thousands every year, if not month.

  3. Nothing to add you said it all. Oursystem is a failure from the get go. There are many solutions but “vos vet men zogen”

  4. Nothing to add you said it all. Our system is a failure from the get go. There are many solutions but “vos vet men zogen”

  5. Well written article. I hope to have your writting skills one day. In the olden days, the way it worked was, people did not buy a service they could not pay for. Not everyone sent their kid to full time school forever. Kids sometimes had to start working at an early age to help the familey with their finances. I would say let your child start working at around 8 or 9 years of age. You will not only save on tuition, you will also gain another income. How smart our zaides were! My grand mother started working in her father’s store at age 7. I am proud of that! Anyhow, most people won’t do this because of the stigma. Too bad for that!
    Thanks for the great article.

  6. Just to add onto his last point. The yeshiva where I send my children has a mandatory building fund of $1,000 per family, – no questions asked. When some parents complained, the yeshiva told them “we will give you a break as long as you give us your first $1,000 of maaser”. They were not looking to control how parents give their tzedokoh. The point was if you are giving maaser anyway why can’t you give it to us. How can you complain you can’t pay a building fund -from maaser money- to your childrens yeshiva, and give away money to other mosdos? I agree with them %100, and i think it should be expanded!

  7. Powerful. People who have 3 late model cars, renovations on their kitchens, and Pesach in Crete, and then cry poverty are also part of the problem. People should keep their priorities straight.

    Also, when a generous benefactor offers a Mosad a new, state-of-the-art building because he wants his donation to be used for many years, is often missing the boat. First, a new building creates extra maintenance expenses for the Mosad. Yet, the Mosad has no choice because they cannot say no and risk losing future support. Second, worry about the current situation and not be fixated on what will be.

    The middle class is definitely getting squeezed. But everyone has to assess their situations, include the upper class.

  8. Tachlis!
    How much more will be written on this subject?
    I am a rebbe for fifteen years , and may I say , I think a pretty good one. My yeshiva is very mentchlach in how they treat us. If we have any kind of simcha, the Yeshiva is very generous in helping us. Yet I am struggling daily just to make ends meet. I receive a very decent salary, approximaately 65,000 and we cannot have meat except on Shabbos.Why do we go on forever “talking” about the community’s responsibility to support yeshivos. Sure, there are families struggling and I feel for them. I also have to pay tuition for my seven children and cannot afford it. Truth be told, I am not paying as much as the “middle claass”. I also do not go on vacation. Rabbi Adlerstein is wonderful and writes beautifully, but it is all one great brocho lvatala!
    Do something! Organize communities. Enough talk. Help the yeshivos . My Rosh Hayeshiva is out fundraising nightly. He sees his wife and children and grandchildren from Shabbos to Shabbos. Do not turn the yeshivos into monsters. They are more important to us than Lipa or Con Edison. Let us treat them as such.

  9. How is it that tuition in Satmar is less than $2000 a year? What are they doing right and everyone else doing wrong?

  10. I have 5 kids in school, was making a decent middle class salary with a wife that works as well.
    We can not afford to pay the cost of tuition
    We have only one car no summer home or bungalow
    do not spend beyond our means.
    I just try to imagine how so many families are even able to put food on their tables.
    Unless they have outside help or are professionals that are making $200,000 a year + for a family of 5 you are struggling and I personally find it unfair that we are all put in this situation that you have no choice but to send to a Yeshiva.
    its has come to a point that we have to figure out a way that we can get free education like the public schools
    We are paying all the taxes anyway.
    the Yeshiva’s are not run like Moisdes they are all privately owned with their own agendas.
    No Comment beyond that point but all in all we are in a tough situation which give little hope for the future generations.

  11. Dear Frustrated Parent,
    I didn’t know I had a twin!! I too am not sure how much harder my wife and I can work, and with seven children in private yeshivas we’re drowning!!
    A dark sentiment has begun to grow like a toxic mold in our community – and I try my hardest to stay out of it…

    Maybe I will hit the lottery… it’s my only hope. Hashem help me.

  12. I read this article yesterday and it is so, so sad. I wanted to cry.
    Sometimes those benefactors are your wife, parents/in-laws, or other relatives. Sometimes, though, your subsidies come from middle-class, hardworking people who work SUPER HARD to pay FULL TUITION so that you don’t have to.

  13. My feeling is, people who get free rides, or free major discounts, should be singally interviwed and examined. . These people should be made to realize that their eligibility is questionable, and they have to either rase funds for the school, or give some of their time to ‘school service’ to help cut costs.

    Also, many schools pay teachers so little that the ‘tuition break’ is really their base salary, and when added all up they are trully being paid fairly for their services.

  14. My response is long but well worth the read I guarantee it! I was a yeshiva administrator for many years and a parent in 4 schools at the same time (elementary and high, boys and girls). This is worth the read.

    Sadly this is falling on deaf ears. The Hamodia just published in their magazine (cover article) about the crisis. The Yated’s Pesach edition addressed it in the Chinuch roundtable. Torah Umesorah dedicated a portion of their administrative conference to this issue and nothing N-O-T-H-I-N-G!!! has happened. The reason? It all boils down to controls. We no longer have the Kehilla and no longer have the proper control. Rabbonim seem to have lost their power only because the tzibbur doesn’t listen.

    Rabbonim can speak but schools do as they please. The Rabbonim seem to have no Shlit’a on the schools, and the yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs do not care to listen. They have their budgets they have their payroll they have their needs and would rather drill their parents into their graves then fund raise. Shift the burden onto the parents but not broaden their own shoulders to carry the weight.

    Reb Elchonon traveled the world to raise funds for his Yeshiva, So did Reb Aron as did all other true Gedolim even up to today where we all learned of the Mesiras Nefesh literally of Reb Nosson Tzvi ZT”L. Think about it? The Mir has thousands of people and if everyone does their share on paper it should work. But the great Mir Rosh Yeshiva understood that not everyone can pay and nobody should EVER be turned away or made to feel bad because they don’t have the funds to pay Schar Limud. Rather this giant of a man rose to the occasion and said I WILL DO IT! IT IS ON MY SHOULDERS! He could have maxed out when he filled the Mir building but no, he built more and more and took on more and more never dumping his responsibility on the parents.

    How about the Lakewood Roshei yeshiva Shlit”a? You look at the Frum papers each week and begin to wonder…Are they EVER home for Shabbos??? Do they ever get a rest? Baltimore, LA, Chicago, Monsey, 5 towns, Brooklyn and even all over Lakewood week after week, why? Because they too understand that the parents do the best they can but we have to carry the burden. It is our Yeshiva therefore our Achrayus.

    We all know the problems but nobody seems to have the solutions. I do! It’s 1 word


    1 – schools have to trust their parents. Yes some are fooling you and pay less then they should but overall the majority are good people who don’t want (or like) to made into shnorers. we hate begging and we hate having to undress in front of you. Trust us and we will work with you. Beat us up and we will hate you today and probably forever so you’ll never see $ down the road

    2 – Parents have to look at their tuition break not as an obligation for the school to cover but as an obligation on us to help raise those funds. We the parents can work it off by doing things for the school, we can create projects, we can get our network of people involved with whatever we want if we would just care enough to do it. (Hundreds of men attended the Q last night in Flatbush. Why? Most of them have no idea who they were supporting or writing their checks out to. They came because a few chevra made it exciting 5 years ago and then built on it and built on it and built on it. They worked it and the result is 6 or 700 people show up.)

    3 – Rabbonim have to give Shiurim to their Kehilos on Hilchos tzedaka. The men, the ladies, the parents, the grandparents anyone and everyone must be taught these important Halochos. Not Hilchos maaser (although that too is important). I am talking Hilchos Giving. Hilchos Priorities. Hilchos Responsibilities. Does Chai lifeline come before Hatzoloh? Does membership in Shul come before Lev Lachim? Does Masbia come before Misaskim? Does Talmud Torah come before Pidyon Shvuim? Does Shuvu come before Bonei Olam? Does Lakewood come before Eretz Yisroel. Or how about his crazy question…Does your relatives Schar Limud come before anything else? What is Aniyay Ircha? We need mass Shiurim and private lessons on Hilchos Tzedaka to set us straight.

    4 – STOP PUNISHING THE KIDS!!!! Give them their report cards. let them take their finals. Don’t ask them to ask their parents for the tuition checks. Don’t let them know anything ever ever ever about their parents finances or hanhogos with the school. All you do is create a larger separation between you and the school and even worse you make children think less of their parents. You make children worry that their parents are poor or thieves or cheaters or liars or all other wild ideas that can go through a childs mind. Please stop using the kids as bait or pawns in your game. Leave our kids out of it and we will feel less threatened and we will want to help you.

    5 – Show us your books. You have nothing to hide and it is certainly true that you need the funds you are asking for so why not show us so we can help you? we may have ideas. We may feel more responsibility. Yes we may have questions but by answering them and accepting us as a partner we will respond accordingly.

    There is more. in the end it is all about the attitude. if the parents and schools adjust to an attitude of working together. if the community adjusts its attitude of the value of educating our children. if the families adjust their attitudes about who and where to direct their funds to then in the end it will work.

    The biggest question is whose responsibility is it? Does it fall on the schools since they have to pay their bills or does it fall on the parents since they have to educate their child? or perhaps just maybe it is all of ours together. The parents need to do everything they can to pay their tuition and the schools need to do everything they can to fund raise the deficit without going back to their parents. when everyone does their job and cares about the other then it will be fixed.

    until then……

  15. My wife works and we have an income of over 200K.
    We do not go on vacation, have older cars etc.
    We are approaching retirement within the next 10 years(not by choice- Big corporations don’t want older people). The tuition crisis will lead to the next crisis- the retirement crisis.

  16. Nobody has commented really on one of the letter writer’s main points. Number of kids. Smaller families means less tuition bills . . .

  17. Excellent! Thank you Matzav for posting this!

    One additional point:

    In the last generation, it was “In vogue” to give tzeddakah to the local school. Now, those dollars are being sent to the latest causes

    They are worthy, but not at the cost of tinokos shel beis rabban!

    This is a complete distortion of priorities, and we are paying for it.

  18. Another elephant in the room: supporting married children. Not that we wouldn’t like to but we can’t. We help support our elderly parents instead, and not the going 5 year plan rate, but what we can do.

  19. The solution ,every community will ‘TAX’ ALL homeowners ,renters . Just like ALL homeowners must pay real estate tax ,water tax they should pay TUITION TAX.The renter should also be tax at a lower rate.Think for a second ,SOME homeowners,renters NO LONGER HAVE CHILDREN IN SCHOOLS therefore they have no tuition to pay .There is a way to make it work,the question is, do we want to make it work?

  20. Same Situation #12 above commented:
    Unless they have outside help or are professionals that are making $200,000 a year + for a family of 5 you are struggling and I personally find it unfair that we are all put in this situation that you have no choice but to send to a Yeshiva.

    QUESTION: Why aren’t we encouraging our young men to seek 200K+ jobs? They are capable and bright

  21. I raised money for over a decade. One simple way for schools t raise money is hire more fundraisers. Simple as that. Just like in sales, more salesmen equals more sales. Their are millions of dollars left on the table each year from both the frum and fry. if the current development folks of the schools and yeshivos would be open to hiring more “salesmen” for the institution, things would be better off providing the schools don’t take the new monies and spend them on non essentials

  22. Just a few comments;
    -perhaps schools are raising tuitions because their costs are going up?
    -not all communitites charge the tuition you mention. Tuition in Monsey for elementary school is still under $10K for an elementary school child.
    -in some yeshivos,full tuition does not even cover the cost of educating your child, let alone covering shcolarship children
    -tax the kehilla? So everyone who struggled to pay full tuition for all their children over the years, has to pay now again, so others can pay less?
    -from what other parents have admitted to me, not all those paying reduced rates are struggling to do so. The first approach should be getting them to cover their share.

    Yes, there are problems, but the go-to solution should not be, “make everyone else pay”.

  23. I think we have failed the test of wealth in America. Our standard of living has risen every generation … and instead of pouring money into Torah and limud haTorah at every level, we have larger homes, more cars, bigger simchas, fancier clothes … everything. You name it, we have something way better than 20 or 40 years ago. Why? Why do we need more space, more, more more … and not more Torah?

  24. Something that might help a little to cut costs:

    Let the rebbeim become qualified as teachers for the secular “English” subjects That way the rebbeim can work a full day and the school can save the extra money to be paid to outside teachers. The rebbeim can contribute some tuition instead of getting automatic free tuition for their kids. Most “English” subjects are kosher – the problem is having teachers that meet state standards. Why pay outsiders when we can have our own teachers getting paid more?

  25. -To Oy Vey:

    “Show us your books. You have nothing to hide and it is certainly true that you need the funds you are asking for so why not show us so we can help you? we may have ideas. We may feel more responsibility. Yes we may have questions but by answering them and accepting us as a partner we will respond accordingly”

    Exactly! I’ve been saying that for years. It must work both ways. Thank you for all, the good points.

  26. In terms of making tuition a tax deductible expense, would it be possible to set up a website called “I’ll pay your tuition, you pay my tuition” along the lines of “I’ll daven for you, you daven for me”. If I paid someone’s tuition in California and they paid mine in NJ and we both took a tax deduction for it, would that be technically illegal?

  27. #21
    My spouse is involved in administration of a yeshiva…..raising funds for yeshiva day schools/high schools/girls schools are impossibilities. No one out of the community wants to or should have to shoulder the burden of a school that is in another community. Who should funds be raised from?

  28. we in the NY metropolitan area face an even bigger crisis because many of the brand name yeshivas and bais yakov’s are privately owned
    we need more klal yeshivas that are not privately owned. in addition lets combine schools to save on overhead. How many kiruv and chesed organizations are doing the same thing but each one has a president and a fund raiser making big bucks.combine a few and literally save millions that can be used to defray the cost of tuition. How many multi million dollar buildings do we have in NY that are half empty? lets stop the waste and put it to good use.

  29. I shouldn’t have known this but the administrator (20 yrs younger than my father) of my community high school 35 yrs ago told my father when he asked for a break because he had been out of work for 6 months, “Imy”h, you’ll get a job”. Meanwhile, because my parents both worked, on the books, we had nothing while the rich kids and the poor kids had everything-youth corp so they made tons of money in the summer, tuition and camp breaks, free lunch, etc. Nowadays you can get a free telephone or basic cell, free anything and everything from Yeled V’Yalda, never mind free medical care….
    Be rich or be poor, just don’t be middle class!

  30. I do agree with HaLeiVi but we need to also send our kids to public school at the same time so that legislators will finally learn a lesson and support private or charter schools or face a bankrupt department of education. This threat had worked in Lakewood and they backed down. WE CAN DO THE SAME.

  31. The main issue is that there is no kehilla. If you look at the chassis usher system where there is one the central Mossad collects money from their gevirim to support their institutions. Thereby enabling a tuition of only 2000 per child. I grew up in Cleveland and there too there is a federation that has built up a large fund over many years that supports the local schools. There is so much money in our community. However there needs to be a central non political organization that collects and distributes funds to all schools based on a per capita basis. If this was done no wealthy person can say I don’t want to contribute as my child or grandchild goes somewhere else. There is no reason a Keren of a few hundred million cannot be raised across the spectrum. And every year distributions can be made on 10-15 percent of the keren while at the same time raising new funds on an annual basis through fundraising and investment. I’ve been talking about this fOr a long time and it’s the only way things can change. The wealthy must support the community.

  32. To #35, you are 100% correct. Many older people have little to live on in their old age and may have helped to pay tuition for grandchildren. Should they be “forced” to pay tuition for local families all the while watching materialism escalate?

  33. That’s an idea, to go for 200K jobs but not everyone’s cut out for that, we need the teachers and many other honorable “professionals” (handymen, etc.), and we can’t leave Hashem out of the picture. Those people get laid off, etc. too. One never knows…

  34. I guess some have failee the test but not all. I wish I had an eyes rolling emoticon for the gaashmiyus argument. There are a lot of people who keep it real, who are children and grandchildren of people who kept it real. Not everyone did the upwardly mobile thing and some are living at even lower standards.

  35. oy vey #21:

    Your #1 and your #5 are contradictions. Why should the schools show their books to the parents (#5) while you don’t want the parents to have to show their books to the school (#1)?


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