A Question of Tuition

The post a week ago called “A Question of Aliya” evoked a substantial response, all of it to the point.  If there is a need for further comment on my part, it is limited to the observation that I am full of admiration and at least a bit envious of those who took the path not taken by me and who made aliya.  My point simply was to raise a question that in my experience has not been sufficiently addressed, it being how the Israeli pattern of basic education often results in a serious challenge to families with young children that have made aliya.

There is a related issue, perhaps not closely related but still fairly relevant, that is suggested by the title of this post.  High tuition in the United States is a catalyst to an increased number of younger families considering and making aliya.  If the pattern of Israeli basic education may be a disincentive to some families, high tuition is an incentive and, as is true of many decisions that people make, the economic factor is the critical determinant.  I trust it need not be noted that there obviously are younger families, more than a few, who made aliya and for whom tuition and economics were not decisive.

I write in the middle of what is always the worst week for me in the entire school year.  School is open at the five schools that comprise the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School and, of course, in hundreds of institutions across the country.  In shul this morning, a fellow asks about a rebbi he knows whose son is being refused admission to a yeshiva because the father cannot afford the minimum tuition that is required.  Shortly before this was written, a person prominent in Jewish life emailed about a divorced father in Brooklyn whose daughter is being refused admission on tuition grounds.  These situations are just the tip of the iceberg as I am inundated by admission issues at the schools for which I have a measure of responsibility.

My inclination is to side with the parents and not with the schools, even my own, and not because I think all parents are being fair about tuition, but because the children – their emotional health, their educational progress and their Judaic growth – should be what we are most concerned about.  It is far better as a rule that some parents should cheat – and I believe that most do not – than children should be hurt.

Yet, I know that my intervention in these wrenching situations comes at a cost.  Yeshivas and day schools are with few exceptions these days under enormous financial pressure.  There are major schools that are behind in payroll and certainly most yeshivas underpay their staff.  When I side with the parents I always wonder whether I am siding against those who teach Torah to our children.



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17 Responses

  1. AY Lawrence says:

    Thanks for a well-written article. I think this shows rather well how torn school administrators can be when dealing with tuition affordability issues.

    The bottom line in my humble, layman’s opinion (I am not on a school board nor have children in yeshiva yet) is that the crux of the tuition crisis boils down to the fact that dual-curriculum private schooling is just too darn expensive for the average Jewish wage-earner, period. Things like fair, transparent tuition pricing and school vouchers may mitigate the problem somewhat, but if school budgets are in a frightful mess even with tuitions pushing $10-$11K on average, the problem boils down to one of cost. Private schooling, taken together with the current, relatively high cost of living, is just too expensive for most to attain and is really a luxury, at its current cost, not a necessity (economically speaking). And yet yeshiva day schooling is culturally a virtual requirement. Tuition bills become more like a tax than a commodity, raising hackles all around, since people may tend to be far more sensitive to perceived unfairness when it comes to taxes.
    The best real way to deal with contemporary tuition in my opinion is to very severely scale back the standard of living, for those who cannot afford full tuition, so as to be able to afford its high cost. Of course, such a drastic scaling back of standards for those who can’t pay will go quite far in making inter-class resentment and warfare a reality and is for all intents and purposes impractical today.

  2. thinking outloud says:

    The tuition crisis is really an Achdus Crisis (sorry for creating a new crisis)

    Why do we need a myriad of options for educating our children?
    Granted each option is somewhat different, but in the grand scheme of things, they are relatively unimportant minutiae compared to the possibility that in a generation we won’t be able to afford to send our kids to school.

    Each time you open up a new school you create redundancies in the system: at minimum, redundancies in administrative staff, redundancies in infrastructure and redundancies in administrative costs.
    How much money is saved by having five schools unified within in the RJJ system rather that five separate schools unaffiliated with each other?

    MERGE schools and set up a community option; take advantage of the economies of scale, then tax the community to support the community school.

    you think you are special and need a special option – pay for it out of pocket and don’t complain.

    And then what goes around, comes around – imagine the achdus we could create if parent bodies were made up diverse Jews: litvish, chassidish, sephardic, modern, yeshivish — maybe knowing other parents in the less antagonistic atmosphere of a parent body will help us all get along just a little bit better.

  3. Orit says:

    I think the system can be made fairer. And if it is, there might be more money coming in to schools.
    1. Don’t just ask about bank accounts. Ask about the value of jewelry, silver, furniture, art etc. A woman has a 10K diamond ring, but she gets a break. Why? Oh, it was a gift from the inlaws. OK, well, but she went and bought a lot of silver – can’t she sell some of it?
    2. Do not allow ANY charity giving for those who get breaks. Zero.
    3. Don’t allow young couples to take on big mortgages and then cry poverty. Let them sell their house.

  4. shaulking says:

    Tuition payment or non payment is a difficult situation for both sides of the table. Most schools request the non-paying parent to raise money, help in school lunch program, sell raffles or be active in the parent league.

    There is a point that should be discussed, there are parents who do not want to pay full tuition since the schools are ineffienctly run. For example: Out dated Rabbaim, too young/inexperienced teachers who barely finish the year at the school & never return for a 2nd round, disorganized or not offering special ed resources, title 1, P3 services or never expecting teachers to attend Professional training for educational advances. Yeshivos have to offer a well-rounded, professional program, with able-bodied and trained educators on hand. It should not be looked upon as a DAY CARE or BABYSITTING program….with lusterles activities. Put excitement into the modos, Rosh Chodesh Specials, Outings & educational trips, Computer technology, Art, Music, Gym, Woodshop, and creativity.. Parents want a punch for their dollar :).

  5. tzippi says:

    AY Lawrence, do you mean those who can’t afford tuition should scale back? You think they’re not already. Granted, we live in a world where even the have-nots have luxuries like internet access (no waving hand emoticon…) but many, many people I know are already living frugally, and while saying yes to some things (cheap sleepover camp, either new ones or as mothers’ helpers) are saying no to others (supporting married children; not that I wouldn’t like to help).

    And we’re not all that bitter or resentful to the haves. Maybe some of us are blessed to live in communities where the haves are living below their means and other than buying the occasional trendy skirt for our girls, there’s no or little competition.

    Now, if you mean that everyone should think about their spending, not a bad idea. It’s quite healthy for the haves to live below their means, even if that’s way above the means of the have nots. But give us credit for trying, and not being up in [class warfare] arms.

  6. Observer says:

    Orit, what you say sounds plausible on the surface, but is not in touch with reality.

    In terms of Jewelry, silver, etc. you need to realize that the resale value of these items is negligible. As for not allowing “charity giving” what does that mean? That any family who gets a break should be forbidden to give any tzedakah? The Halacha is otherwise, so that’s a rather difficult thing for a school that is supposed to be teaching Judaism to pull off.

    I do agree somewhat on the mortgage issue, but it’s not always so simple. Selling the house is not always an option, and even more often it’s not an option that’s going to make a real difference – rents can be extremely high, so in many cases, selling won’t do all that much good. And, in many cases, especially in the current economy, the mortgage is such a high percentage of the house value that selling would not leave the family with a lot of extra assets. So what good does that do anyone?

  7. Observer says:

    Shaulking, the issues that you bring up are a total red herring. All of the activities you “demand’ COST MONEY – money that these same parents don’t want to pay (and that other parents CANNOT AFFORD to pay.) And, when this is an issue, it’s not the SCHOOLS that treat teachers like baby-sitters, it’s the parents.

    Allow me also to point out that schools have huge turn-over because they generally under-pay, and even that doesn’t always show up on time. They don’t push tons of “development courses” because those cost money. Who is paying for that? The teachers who already in a hole? Or the schools who’ve been told that they are totally wasteful, and don’t deserve tuition, anyway? And what real leverage does a school that’s already in the hole (especially one whose parent body treats the teachers no better – and sometimes worse- than babysitters) to force teachers, who are generally already stressed and overextended, to attend these courses? You are complaining that schools are not holding on to teachers, as it is. Do you think this is going to make this any better?

    There are no easy answers to this issue. But a key step is for people to change their attitudes.

  8. L. Oberstein says:

    I saw an advertisement in Hamodia from a man in Israel who writes that he has 17 children and can’t afford to pay his bills. I think that is taking it too far to think that the Jewish world owes him because he is having a lot of children. Since I also am blessed with many children, I realize that there are those who think my wife and I should have had 2 or 3 at the most,like most normal American Jews and not kept on long after that. The point when we cannot afford our life style has long since been reached, but does that mean we institute takonos for birth control? Isn’t it irresponsible to have more children than one can afford? Most people in this country feel that way and we go to them to ask them to subsidize our life choices.
    Someone asked me how did it come about that there are so many Chassidim in New York, were all the refugees frum? I explained that only a minority were of that type but that they had children and their children had children and now we are onto a third or forth generation. Do we not believe that we have an obligation to rebuild the Jewish People after the Holocaust and that gives us the imperative to have many children? But, if it is our imperative, does the community owe us a subsidy?

  9. shaulking says:

    OBSERVER, BTW there are free professional courses offered twice a year to parachoial – private school teachers from the Board of Ed. They are credit bearing, professional and well worth it. BJE also offers many classes throughout the year for free for teachers to attend in addition to the Veterens Day Professional day for all Yeshiva teachers and Rebbeim. The classes are filled with MORAHS, where are the rebbes that day? Teachers need to consider that their job is a profession, not babysitting or a ‘time filler’, in order to benefit from classes.

    All the special ed resources are also available FREE OF CHARGE from the Dept of Education, Title 1, P3 providers, SETTS and Shadows cost a school zero except that need a school or principal coordinator to organize and put into place.

  10. Observer says:

    shaulking, no Rebbi I know (and I know a number of them) consider their jobs to be “babysitting”. It’s the parents that take that attitude. The Rebbes are generally not at the free courses for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that many Yeshivas have school on days like Veterans Day, and more men work as Rebbes during the summer months than women work as Morahs during that time period. (If schools paid well, they could demand that teachers devote their summer to professional development, but most schools don’t pay well. Which people then use as an excuse to squeeze the school even more.)

    Most schools DO work with the Board of Ed provided resources, but claiming that they don’t cost the school anything is simply false. You yourself noted that there needs to be someone to coordinate. Who is paying that salary? It’s not just about coordinating things at the beginning of the year. SEITS and Shadows mean that you can put fewer kids in a classroom. Worse, the pull out programs mean that you have to have a place to put them – and you can’t put a bunch of kids into one room. Also, working with the BOE means IEPs – which the schools are legally bound to, and again, this can be costly. Most IEPs are fairly impossible to manage if teachers have too many students in the class, and it’s also hard to get this done right when you can’t hold on to good teachers because of the pay situation.

  11. Hat says:

    These are tough questions that Mr. Schick raises. These questions are likely to get much tougher as the economy declines and a larger segment of the Orthodox community fails to obtain high incomes.

  12. Jewish Observer says:

    “BTW there are free professional courses offered twice a year to parachoial – private school teachers from the Board of Ed”

    – which Board of Ed? You did not even mention a country!

  13. shaulking says:

    Sorry Jewish Observer, the New York Board of Education in the USA.

  14. Yeshiva World Observer says:

    Maybe if the schools had a transparent financial program there would be more support from the post-tuition group? When was the last time one of our schools had an independent finical audit from a CPA firm? Maybe if the school’s tuition committee would be a little more tolerant they could go back to these families after thy have finished with tuition’s and raise some funds? Just maybe!

  15. L. Oberstein says:

    Jewish Private schools depend on donations. In cities where the Federation gives support, these schools must have transparant financial records and be able to show their books to the Federation. Foundations don’t support schools with no transparancyI don’t know about New York but that is certainly true out of town. We have far too many schools for the population because there is a surplus of kollel alumni needing jobs and if they aren’t hired,they can start a niche school for a certain type of student. The students in these new schools need the individual attention and approach and I honestly believe that more diversity in education will help huge numbers of boys and girls stay within the frum community and avoid alienation and rebellion, but we don’t have the money. It is a hard nut to crack. Aliyah is certainly an option for many but we American observant Jews have such a different culture and life style than Israelis. It is like asking a German Jew in 1930 to send his son to Poland to the Mir. A few did it but most recoiled.

  16. Whoa nelly says:


    Are you suggesting that the yeshivos are generating profits?

    Precisely what do you anticipate seeing on an audited financial statement other than an additional $20,000 hit to the bottom line. Which is the minimum an audit from a reputable firm would charge even at a steep discount.

    I happen to know a number of Yeshivas that do have audits. They have never indicated that it has been a boon for their fundraising.

    This is just yet another straw man argument.

  17. SA says:

    L. Oberstein, with all due respect to your Germany/Mir analogy, Eretz Yisrael was given to the Jewish people — all the Jewish people — and we are all going to end up here sooner or later, no matter what our current lifestyle. Is there any claim in Chazal that Moshiach is going to wave a magic wand over all of the Jews who’ll be crowding in after his arrival so as to make them, and the natives receiving them, all look, think and dress the same?

    It’s really, really time to stop viewing Eretz Yisrael as “an option, though it may not be for everyone,” and start reading Chumash. I’m not saying such a move is easy, but the truth is, anyone who “got it” up to a few years ago, when homes abroad could have been sold and TWO bought in Eretz Yisrael, are now reaping those rewards. Now that’s less possible, but the tuition/health insurance benefits still apply.

    Once again, if enough people make the move, there will be enough of a critical mass to create schools that will accommodate. It’s already happening in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, albeit slowly. And it’s certainly something that must be considered in a situation where (at least that’s how it sounds from here) there are frum Jews who are reconsidering giving their children a yeshiva education at all!

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