Kadima Day School shifts tuition model
In an effort to increase enrollment and woo new families, Kadima Day School in West Hills is implementing a tuition model that will eliminate financial aid for families in need and replace it with lower costs that will make the school more affordable for most Kadima families.
Beginning in the 2017-18 academic year, the annual tuition for children in early education (ages 2 to 5) will drop 11 percent, to $11,600; the cost for children in kindergarten through fifth grade will drop by 43 percent, to $13,900; and it will drop the same percentage for grades six through eight, to $14,900, according to a Kadima Day School press release.
The initiative is being financially supported by the Evenhaim family, the school said.
Shawn Evenhaim, a member of the board of trustees at Kadima, a Conservative school, said his family’s support — now in the millions of dollars, cumulatively — represents an investment in the future of Jewish day schools at a time when they are facing enrollment decline because of rising tuition costs and non-Orthodox families having fewer children.
“It’s a huge investment on our end. We decided to do it, and there were many reasons we decided to do it,” Evenhaim said. Not least, he added, is the experience of his own children at Kadima.
“We saw the impact on our three boys,” he said.
Nonetheless, because so many families at Kadima are on tuition assistance, the new model will result in some families paying more than they have been with financial aid, said Kadima Head of School Greg Kovacs.
“We’ve done a lot of number crunching,” he said. “We’re looking at about just under 20 percent who will see an increase in their tuition, while the rest of population will see around the same or a slight decrease.”
Kovacs told the Journal the school will continue to make quality education its top priority even as the cost of tuition decreases. There are plans to cut costs through instructional changes, such as one teacher handling different student ability levels within the same classroom, as opposed to multiple teachers leading multiple classes for each level.
The school also will integrate learning, such as a general studies teacher incorporating Judaic studies into the curriculum.
“Some say lower tuition means less quality of education. It’s not the case here. We’re putting as much energy and time into securing the best quality of teachers,” Kovacs said. “That’s the motivation, the balance of quality education with accessible tuition.”
Evenhaim is founder and chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based California Home Builders and chairman emeritus of the Israeli American Council. In 2014, Evenhaim and his wife, Dorit, donated $1.2 million to the school — its full name is Kadima Day School Evenhaim Family Campus — for grants to help middle-income families that did not have children enrolled in Jewish day schools at the time.
Even high-earning families like the Evenhaims find day school tuition so high as to be unattractive, especially if the family has more than one prospective Jewish school student.
Indeed, families with annual incomes of even $200,000 can be eligible for financial aid at Jewish day schools. The problem is high-earning families do not want to apply for financial aid because they do not see themselves as candidates for it, Evenhaim said.
“We attracted a lot of kids through that  grant and I’m very happy it was successful, but then I realized a lot of people are not even applying for these grants. They think, ‘Look, I make a good income,’ ” Evenhaim said.
Fran Amkraut, a Kadima board member and parent of four children who attend the school, said her children have received financial aid, and they are not alone — approximately 75 percent of the 250 students there currently receive some sort of tuition assistance, according to Kovacs.
Amkraut said she understands why some would not want to apply for aid.
“I find financial aid to be intimidating, tedious, laborious. I think for some families, I can’t speak for [all of] them, I find it believable it would be a reason some would not apply. It’s a headache,” she said. “People are not comfortable with numbers and paperwork. People who are new to the country, community or economy might not know where to start.”
A large portion of the student population at Kadima is Israeli. Evenhaim is Israeli and grew up with Judaism all around him. For Jewish children growing up in the multicultural United States, Jewish day school plays an important role in shaping young people as they grow older, he said.
He said he hopes other Jewish day schools follow suit and make tuition more affordable.
“This is a big-picture issue. It is not just about Kadima,” he said.
Kadima’s new tuition plan compares favorably with other Jewish schools. Annual tuition at Valley Beth Shalom Harold M. Schulweis Day School, which is Conservative and offers kindergarten through sixth grade, is $24,950. Kindergarten-through-sixth-grade tuition at Wise School, which is Reform and located at Stephen Wise Temple, is $28,885.
“In non-Orthodox communities, it’s definitely on the low end,” Miriam Prum Hess, director of donor and community relations at Builders of Jewish Education (BJE), said of the new tuition costs at Kadima, one of 37 Los Angeles-area schools accredited by BJE. “I don’t think we have other schools that are anywhere near that.”
Prum Hess said that enrollment in Jewish day schools has dropped about 5 percent, to 9,500 from a peak of 10,000 in 2008.
Emblematic of the enrollment decline was the closure last May of Temple Emanuel Academy Day School.
Evenhaim said he hopes the lower tuition will entice new families, who in turn become eventual supporters of the school.
“My goal is to create a model where the school sustains itself and we’re not relying on a few donors but are creating families who are not just sending kids to Jewish education,” he said, “but are becoming supporters of Jewish education.”