Kadima gets $1.2 million grant for mid-income new families

Kadima Day School in West Hills has received a donation of $1.2 million for grants to help middle-income families who do not currently have children enrolled in Jewish day schools.

The gift, which was announced Feb. 25, came from Shawn and Dorit Evenhaim of Calabasas. The couple have had three sons attend the school — one still does — and Shawn Evenhaim is a past board president has been involved continuously in leadership and fundraising. 

What the grant does is create a net tuition of $10,000 per year in a student's first year.  And then, in the second year, the net tuition cost will be $10,500 for those in the program. Funding will continue until the child graduates, with the cost of tuition increasing by $500 each year. Any family qualifies with one child in kindergarten through eighth grade and a gross total income of up to $150,000, as well as families with more than one child and a gross income of up to $200,000. 

“A lot of the Jewish leadership talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk,” Shawn Evenhaim said. “We know that the best investment is Jewish education — continuity is almost ensured. It’s a big project, much more expensive than funding Sunday school, but it’s necessary. It’s about time the wealthy individuals in our community invested in this together.”

Evenhaim has been active in the real estate and building industries and is chairman of the Israeli American Council.

“My wife and I grew up in Israel and came here after we got out of the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]. When we had our firstborn here, we had the realization that we weren’t going back to Israel anytime soon, and that we had to start investing in Jewish life and community here. We looked for the right campus for our first son and ended up at Kadima,” he said. 

Evenhaim said that while Jewish camp and Sunday school are good ways to introduce children to the Jewish community, he believes  Jewish day school pulls Jewish youth in for the duration of their lives.

“Jewish day school makes you fall in love with Jewish life,” he said, citing his own, college-age son as an example.

“He went to college, pledged the Jewish fraternity, joined Hillel on campus and became actively involved in numerous Jewish and Israeli clubs and causes,” Evenhaim said. “It wasn’t something we forced him to do — it was just part of who he was.”

Annual tuition at Jewish day schools locally averages about $17,000 for elementary and $18,000 for middle school, but can go much higher, up to $33,400 at one L.A. Jewish middle school, according to BJE-Builders of Jewish Education.

“My wife and I wanted to figure out how we could make it more affordable,” Evenhaim said. “Like any business model, the more kids who are enrolled, the more the cost per child goes down. And we understand that, at current rates [between $22,000 and $27,000 per year, based on age, at Kadima], a family with two children would end up paying $100,000 for just a couple years of Jewish day school education, and that’s just not possible for a lot of families.”

Evenhaim pointed to the model of Christian schools to show how decreased tuition can entice more families — even Jewish ones.

“People aren’t satisfied with the public school system, so there’s a need. But when the Catholic school is charging only $10,000 a year, or less, they end up with 20 to 30 percent of their pupils being Jewish. The Jewish community needs to wake up to this truth.”

Kadima, whose campus is named for the Evenhaims in honor of their longtime leadership and financial contributions, has an early childhood education center, elementary school and middle school, and serves more than 250 students. In determining eligibility requirements for the new grants, Kadima used both national and regional studies, including those done by BJE-Builders of Jewish Education, a local organization dedicated to education within the Los Angeles Jewish community.

“This is really groundbreaking in the Jewish day school challenge of affordability,” said Bill Cohen, head of school at Kadima. “The Pew report was published and illustrated what we already knew — that more young Jewish people are … being part of the community less than they have in the past.”

Grant funding already has begun for the academic year beginning in fall 2014. 

“So far, about 10 people have called to inquire about the funding,” Cohen said. “We’re hoping, in the end, to enroll 40 students, which is what the fund can support.”

Cohen said the program is only for new students at Kadima, and is not available to anyone currently attending a different Jewish day school. 

“The point is to reach out to a wider audience who did not find it to be affordable before this,” he said.

The donation will not affect other financial aid that’s also available for families who qualify.