The Challenge of Day School Affordability: Keeping our Eyes on the Prize!

October 21, 2012

In religious Jewish communities, the affordability of day schools is one of the most discussed social challenges. Supporting vibrant, successful, viable Jewish day schools is no less than supporting the Jewish future – our children are our future, and the values we demonstrate and pass on will determine what they will do with the torch when they are its bearers.

Rising school costs along with a continuing recession have combined to create a crisis in the survival of Jewish day schools. While estimates vary, it is clear that tuition costs have outstripped the ability of many families to pay. One report in 2010 estimated that most Jewish day schools “>Milken Community High School in Los Angeles, where the annual tuition is $32,155. In addition, there is an annual security fee of $700, and new students pay a one-time fee of $1,500. This does not count the expected parental contribution toward several fundraising efforts each year, or the flat fee for textbooks. To be sure the school offers a high-quality Jewish education, but how many families can afford to send their children there?

At the other end of the day school spectrum are the elementary and “>the average annual gross income of Baltimore families is far less than $50,000. Thus, an Orthodox family that sends three children to day school will spend $25,950 each year in tuition. After taxes and synagogue expenses, Orthodox Baltimore households are using all available funds for day school. The continuing Great Recession has exacerbated this crisis, and scholarship money is not often available. Many families are now at, or past, the point where they can afford to send their children to day school. As“>parents working several jobs and thus not being available to spend time with their children; students discouraged from becoming community-serving professionals like teachers and social workers because these careers do not pay enough to support a Jewish family; and families that will fall from the position of contributing to society to being forced to ask for charity.  

Fortunately, there may be a more promising future for Jewish day schools. Most proposed solutions fall out into one of the following ten options:

1. Increase philanthropic support to Jewish schools (or offer low-cost loans);
2. Increase state funding of secular subjects within day schools (or move toward the British model of state-funding);
3. Cut down school expenses without cutting quality (raise student-teacher ratio, move to smaller facilities, follow an administrative cost-sharing model, encourage regional benchmark standards, use green technology to cut energy costs, etc.);
4. Increase revenue (rent school space, hold community programs, charge for adult education, e“>the Jewish Day School Affordability Knowledge Center, a joint project between the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education and the Orthodox Union.

The day school system is potentially the most powerful way of educating, empowering, and activating our Jewish youth base to grow as global Jewish leaders, and is therefore crucial to the future of the Jewish community. We must reprioritize our wealth to ensure that we leverage our personal and communal funds to address the most pressing moral issues of our time. If we do not repair our financially broken day school system, we risk becoming overwhelmed by its burden and becoming less relevant in the cosmic unfolding of human history. Now is the time to change the paradigm.


Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder and President of “>Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly

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