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PROJECT EDUCATION TAKES ON TUITION AFFORDABILITY

By: Sarina Roffé

Project Education, a new nonprofit in the community, has been studying the issue of tuition affordability for the past three years. With nearly 100 percent of the children in our community attending yeshivot, the issue of its affordability for growing middle class families has been front and center in recent years.

The affordability of yeshiva education is one of the most discussed social challenges in Jewish communities nationwide and around the world. The increasing cost of tuition at Jewish day schools and the recession have created a grave crisis, as tuition costs have outstripped the ability of many families to pay.

Trapped by Tuition

Our community is committed to assuring that every child receives a yeshiva education, regardless of the parents’ ability to pay. A decade ago, roughly one-fourth of all community children received some sort of tuition assistance. When the economy tanked a few years ago, that number rose to 48 percent. Today, nearly one out of every two children in the community receives tuition assistance in some form. 

With tuition in the $20,000 range, a family with four children in school will have an $80,000 tuition bill. Even with a family income of $150,000 annually, after taxes, rent/mortgage and utilities, this family will have a hard time making ends meet. And thus the high cost of tuition is causing many families a great deal of financial hardship. 

Parents feel trapped. They do not feel they have a choice. In a community where Jewish values are so deeply embedded, public school is not an option, and many parents feel humiliated by the tuition assistance process, which is very strict. The schools feel an obligation to make sure every child stays in yeshiva, and they are thus trying to ensure that assistance is provided to all who need, while at the same time maintaining a sound financial policy. This difficult challenge has made the process of applying for assistance very unpleasant for many parents.

The Tuition Tithe

Project Education took on this issue and analyzed many ways to address it. Leading the charge is Albert Laboz, President, along with Hymie Mamiye, Joe Shamie, Elliot Horowitz, Jack Dweck, Morris Tabush, Ricky Novick, Ricky Cohen, Dr. Bob Husney, Jack Ezon, Eli Greenberg, Michael Hidary, Ralph Tawil, Morris Tabush, Sam Haddad, Michael Wahba and Daniel Harari. 

Every idea was discussed and researched. The group attended conferences and studied national data and models in other communities. They joined forces with the OU-Teach NYS Advocacy Center. 

Since tuition assistance is driving up the overall cost of running our schools, Project Education is asking everyone to give ma’aser – a minimum contribution of 10 percent of one’s income. Those who can afford to donate more are strongly encouraged to do so.

Why? Because the future of our community begins with our children and their education, and they should be our top priority.

The Glue That Holds Us Together

Our community values keeping its children near and dear. We want them to marry and remain in the community, and to have the benefit of extended family in their lives. Most of all, we want to infuse our children and grandchildren with our Sephardic values, the same mores we received from our parents and grandparents. 

Study after study has shown that a Jewish education is the key to our children’s leading fulfilling lives in which they can successfully provide for their families and give back to the community. Our children are our future and education is their future.

Those involved in our community’s schools are helping to make a positive difference. They take pride in their activism and support, and know that our children benefit as a result. And we should all feel proud of the schools and the aspirations the teachers have for their students, andthe new programs they are introducing. There are many successful alumni accomplishing great things. Our community boasts doctors, lawyers, teachers, architects, engineers, social workers, interior decorators, caterers, and a multitude of very successful professionals. Progress is happening every day, and this success is to the credit of our outstanding schools.

Yeshivas are the glue that holds our community together. They teach our children, impart our Sephardic values and religion, and help our children make friends within the community. Our yeshivot prepare our children to be the future community leaders. And it is therefore vital that no community child be denied a yeshiva education due to a lack of affordability.

Giving more to our yeshivot will drivedown the cost of tuition. Aggressively supporting Jewish education is the single most important thing we can do as a community. It is an investment for now and for our future.

Please go to our website at www.projectedu.org to learn more and sign on. You can help us raise awareness about the tuition crisis and motivate more community members to contribute to our yeshivot. You can also find links to our partner schools to read about the great things they are doing and how they are using current tuition dollars to benefit our children. Also, look for future articles about this important topic and share them with your family and friends.

Project Education is working with the schools to make positive change happen so our community children can have the best and most affordable education possible – because education matters.

What Parents and Donors are Saying

Project Education received grants from the Orthodox Union and UJA Federation of NY to look at the issue of tuition affordability in our community. Eight focus groups were held during 2013 and a community-wide survey yielded nearly 1000 responses.  

Eighty-one percent of those surveyed believe that all children in our community should have a Jewish day school education. Almost all the respondents indicated that a yeshiva education is essential for teaching Jewish rituals, values and culture, for keeping their children in the community, and for excellence in secular studies. Seventy-two percent of respondents said that they were most concerned about affordability, the financial strain it places on their families. 

Is response to the question of whether they felt they were getting good value for their tuition, 53 percent answered “very much so” or “somewhat.” These sentiments were further confirmed in the focus groups, where many participants conveyed the idea that they did not have confidence in the way the schools manage their budgets. 

There is a widely-held belief that most in the community do not give ma’aser, 10 percent of their earnings, to charity, whether through a tuition bill or other form of giving. When asked what would motivate participants to donate or donate more to their child’s school, more than 40 percent of respondents said they wanted a better explanation of school expenses and overhead. Thirty-three percent want the schools to collaborate to reduce overhead costs. 

Studies indicate that many people donate toward both Jewish and non-Jewish causes, but that the majority of donations is made to institutions outside our community. The results of the focus groups and survey clearly indicated that although education is the highest priority for donors, it was not in line with their giving patterns. In other words, those who are able are not giving to community schools. 

The results also indicated that parents are very worried about how their children will earn enough to afford to live in the community, even with a quality college education. This is a concern that is broader than our community, as it has national implications. One fact is certain – parents believe that higher education is necessary for their children to compete in a global economy.