Problem: As with most ills in the universe, one is hard-pressed to care or put forth the mental effort to ameliorate an issue before the problem personally impacts one’s own life. Looking down the barrel of a $30,000+ bill for my three children’s Jewish Day school tuition has swiftly led me to look at the crisis under new light. I stand ready to propose an answer. I have laid out this proposal to many friends, parents, educators, and professionals, and have received mixed reactions. Like most issues that affect the Jewish community as a whole, my proposal will not solve the whole kit and caboodle, but it should lead us on the right track towards lowering Day School tuitions, lessen the need for financial assistance, and further concretize the realization that only an integrated and systematic communal approach to this issue will resolve the problem.
Proposal: Upon the completion of Day School (generally either 8th grade or 12th grade depending upon the Day school), the parent agrees to offer a small annual gift, say $100, towards the school indefinitely. The parent would agree to this donation before his/her child is accepted to the school, and it would be a pre-condition of the child’s acceptance to the Jewish institution. If the parent refuses to accept this additional philanthropic stipulation, then the child will not be accepted to the school.
Reasoning: When a parent sends his/her child to a Day school, the parent is actively rejecting public school education (and possibly many private schools as well). In effect, the parent is claiming that I believe that the Day school is better for my child, or fits in better with my values (or has some ulterior motive). Regardless of the reason, the person is buying into the philosophy of the school, directly or indirectly. The parent may be choosing the lesser of the two evils in choosing the school, and may not fully agree with many of the school’s educational, political or philosophical decisions; nonetheless, the parent is still choosing the school, for better or worse.
While it makes sense to support an institution that will eventually benefit your family, it is harder to compel parents to start paying a percentage of tuition, or donating some nominal amount to the high school they intend to send their kids, even if they know they will send them there, before their kids come of age. On the other hand, after the fact, once their children graduated from the school, the fact that the parents entrusted their most valuable possessions in the world to this institution to teach them how to be a person, prepare them for life or even simply babysit the child all day, is reason enough to continually support the school. In truth, this is the argument that development officers makes towards alumni and parents of alumni all the time. Sometimes their arguments work; sometimes it falls on deaf ears.
- Parents will not agree to this indefinite arrangement. Answer: They could send their kids elsewhere. There’s a public school somewhere that will be happy to accept that student. Unless a parent buys into the philosophy, financial stability and longevity of the school, why ought a school accept that kid? Let the parents find another school.
- Parents need to see immediate benefit to this arrangement or they will be angry and despise the school. We should not cause the parent to hate the school even before their child starts. Answer: They will see an immediate benefit after the first graduating class. Let us imagine that half of this supplementary donation goes to the school and half towards tuition assistance. At the beginning of the year, parents will receive a letter that tuition is, in the first year possibly $2 less because of this program, and each subsequent year, the tuition will be lessened more and more. Over time, parents will see the substantial benefit that they reap from this program. Of course, it might be a bit demoralizing to receive such a small decrease at the start, but every program has to start somewhere.
- Some people will agree to this arrangement and never fulfill the annual pledge upon the child’s graduation. Are we to sue them? Answer: People are people. There are always people who will not fulfill their pledge to a Jewish organization. That is not a reason not to accept pledges or to compel people to make them.
- When a child graduates, the parent will still experience the hardship of High School, or even college. It is unfair to impose an additional financial burden upon the parent in this instant. Answer: In this case, it makes sense to allow the parent to postpone the gift by four years. There are probably thousands of other examples of financial hardships that a parent may claim. First, this is why the gift is such a small amount. It shouldn’t push anyone over the edge. Second, delays in the payment in extenuating circumstances are obviously completely fine.
- If one is compelled to give charity, then it is not charity. In truth, it is simply an additional bill. We should call a spade a spade. Answer: First, most traditional Jews donate ten percent of their salary to charity. According to many commentaries, this is at least a Rabbinic prescription. Nonetheless, even though G-d or the religion mandates this donation (AKA it is obligatory), no one claims that it is not charity anymore. Charity can, in fact, be obligatory and still remain under the definition of charity.
- Schools will continually raise tuition prices, off-setting any benefit this proposal may have. Answer: it is true that most schools raise the tuition annually, but that does not mean that supplementing the tuition would be meaningless. The financial committee who sets the annual tution price would be expected to act in good faith and set the tuition independent of this auxilary fund.
Conclusion: My three siblings and I graduated from the Samuel Scheck Hillel Community Day School in North Miami Beach, Florida. My mother was never truly excited about our education there and always harbored several complaints and/or reservations regarding our education. Nonetheless, she continued to send all of her children through its system. In fact, my family has Hakares HaTov (goodwill) towards Hillel and for the good that it generated in our lives. It is our family’s alma mater after all. Nonetheless, I promise that my family has never given another penny to Hillel after my youngest sibling graduated. This is because we felt that our contractual arrangement with the school had finished. We might even reason, “Hillel got as much as it could out of us while we there with its high tuition, so why should we continue supporting Hillel subsequently? That is its current students’ parents’ job now, not ours!” As long as we do not currently gain some form of gratification from the school, they will not receive our dollars. This myopic, juvenile, self-centered approach truly destroys the financial stability of schools, and shows a lack of care for the well-being of the Jewish community as a whole. Let us contractually agree to donate! My proposal seeks to change the way that we view the institutions in that we choose to educate our children. Let us be partners with our school.