Creative Ideas Tried to Fund Tuition Aid


A Jewish grandmother caring for her two grandsons was eagerto send them to Huntington Beach Hebrew School so that they could learn about their ancestry. However, she
only had a limited income, and the tuition cost is $7,500 a year. But thanks to an “angel” who paid their full tuition, the boys were able to enroll.

While 100 percent subsidies are the exception among Jewish
day schools, high tuition forces most campuses to extend financial aid to
one-third or more of their students to ensure that no one is turned away who is
qualified.

To cope with growing requests for financial aid, as well as
routine budget deficits unmet by tuition, day schools around the country are
trying an array of creative ideas. Filling annual deficits by fundraising is a
heavy duty added to the workload of private school administrators and lay
leaders, who are reluctant to scrimp on staff or enrichment programs to meet
budget shortfalls.

In Texas, to ensure that lump-sum tuition payments do not
discourage enrollment, one campus relies on a local bank to grant no-interest
tuition loans to parents. In Seattle, for each student enrolled, schools can
count on an unusual tuition subsidy from a private foundation that is nondenominational
in its financial support. In a creative use of tax law, soon-to-be grandparents
in New York will be encouraged to establish tax-deductible remainder trusts for
newborns that, with compounding, should create a day school tuition kitty by
school age.

Among Orange County’s three Jewish day schools, only the
largest is financially secure enough to start inching toward self-financing its
own deficits.

That isn’t the case at the smallest, Rancho Santa
Margarita’s Morasha Jewish Day School, which holds classes in portable
trailers. Besides needing to fill one-third of its $1 million annual budget to
keep the lights on, this year, Morasha will also start the first phase of an
expected $9 million capital campaign to erect permanent classrooms. About one-third
of its 101 students in kindergarten through fifth grade receive aid in paying
the $7,950 in annual tuition.

“The board of directors does soliciting,” said Eve Fein, the
school’s director. “They’re what keeps the place going financially.”

At Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School, this year’s
budget deficit is $2.5 million. Last summer, the school completed its new high
school, hired its first professional development director and its founder,
Irving Gelman, helped establish a $5 million scholarship endowment.

The school’s income shortfall includes $954,000 in tuition
subsidies for about one- third of Tarbut’s 570 students. Their parents pay from
$8,000 to $11,000 in annual tuition for schooling in grades kindergarten
through 12, respectively.

Tarbut makes it mandatory that parents contribute toward
scholarships, last year raising $340,000 at a dinner. This year’s event is Jan.
25 at Irvine’s Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Only recently have school leaders started to make
philanthropic pitches to parents. Previously, individual benefactors each year
picked up the Tarbut’s deficit.

“We need to wean ourselves and become independent,” said
Doris Jacobson, the school’s development director.

At Hebrew Academy, the county’s oldest and most traditional
school, two-thirds of the 400 students receive help paying the annual tuition.
Filling the nearly $1 million deficit in the school’s $2.5 million budget is
expected to be more difficult this year, because of the economic downturn,
predicted Rabbi Yitzchak Newman, the school’s director. “We’re just working
harder and smarter,” he said.

“There’s a tremendous burden placed on schools because of
the rising cost of Jewish education,” said Marc N. Kramer, executive director
of New York-based RAVSK, a network of 79 schools unaffiliated by movement.
So-called community schools are the fastest growing segment among the nation’s
800 Jewish day schools, which remain predominantly Orthodox.

“Schools are forced to do significant fundraising,” Kramer
said. “Even when the economy is good, it’s hard to do.”

Though qualms about prestige and quality are often cited as
deterrents for prospective enrollees, lack of affordability remains a hindrance
to broadening the appeal of day schools to an already skeptical audience, said
Yossi Prager, executive director of New York’s Avi Chai Foundation.

The foundation put its thesis to a test in Cleveland and
Atlanta beginning in 1997. To determine if a tuition subsidy could attract
students who had already decided on an alternative to a Jewish day school, the
foundation agreed to underwrite tuition for each child who enrolled by $12,000
over four years. About 213 students did.

“That’s evidence of something,” Prager said. “This is why
there needs to be additional resources.”

Orange County’s Jewish Federation distributed 22 percent of
its contributions, totaling $1.9 million last year, to day schools. “Always we
have less money than needs,” said Bunnie Mauldin, the Federation’s executive
director.

While the issue of funding Jewish education is on the agenda
of national Jewish organizations, actual funding is not keeping pace. Two years
ago, the United Jewish Communities (UJC) pledged its 189 federations as
advocates for day schools and created a council to resolve day school issues,
such as affordability. One of the first products of that effort, an analysis of
tuition reduction strategies, will be presented Feb. 3 as part of a council
conference in Los Angeles. 

“It was a sea change,” said Steven P. Kraus, director of
school support for the UJC’s education arm,The Jewish Education Service of
North America.

If so, headmasters and principals have yet to see much
consequence.

“A sea change is when money arrives, not just a change in
perception,” Prager said. “If there’s been an enormous change of heart, it
hasn’t translated into a significant change in resources.”

Some see education funding as the figurative thumb in the
dike. “Only 15 percent of Jewish families are affiliated with any Jewish
organization,” said Newman, adding that a day school education has lifelong
impact. “This is providing for a Jewish future.”