We received a lot of feedback on our recent feature article, “Tackling Tuition with Local Day Schools,” and that included school administrators and other decision-makers. We are excited that the paper is fostering a dialogue on issues of interest to the community, and encourage continued participation in the conversation!
Thank you to Kol HaBirah for engaging our community in an important conversation about Jewish Education and Jewish day schools. We know that a disproportionate number of our future lay and professional leaders will be graduates of our day schools — this means that ensuring access and affordability is a critical component for the sustainability of our entire community, because we are enrolling these future leaders right now.
It is up to each school’s current lay and professional leaders to make sure that our product is excellent, relevant, and compelling, and it is up to our entire community to recognize that day schools are cornerstones of vibrant Jewish communities and support them as such.
At Gesher, we are joyfully engaged in an ongoing process of improving an already outstanding education, because we know that parents are indeed making a significant financial commitment to send their children to our school. Like our sister day schools in Greater DC, we do not turn away families based on economic factors (assessed confidentially by third-party services), and provide financial support to over 70 percent of our students. This would not be possible without generous annual contributions from community donors, nor would it be possible without the support of Federation and other community partner agencies. Greater DC is already doing a good job of supporting the schools — I would love to see our community collaborate to create enhanced marketing and communication of the value of a day school education, as well as marketing the fact that it may not be as expensive (with financial aid) as many families assume.
Thank you again for the opportunity to be part of this crucial conversation!
Dan Finkel, Head of School, Gesher Jewish Day School, Fairfax, Va.
Kudos to Kol HaBirah and Gabe Aaronson for shining a light on affordability and Jewish day schools. I appreciate the opportunity to continue the conversation here.
Studies demonstrate the profound impact of a day school education on students’ Jewish knowledge and identity and the disproportionate engagement of day school graduates with our Jewish communities. No other form of Jewish education provides the robust level of knowledge or instills the same level of later Jewish engagement. Together with Jewish summer camps and trips to Israel, day schools are the most effective form of Jewish education.
The breadth of the educational experience at day schools also means that day schools are the most expensive form of Jewish education. Over a single student’s career of 13 years (K-12), the average price tag of a day school education ranges between $250,000 and $300,000 per student. Increases in day school tuition have consistently outstripped increases in inflation and household income, making day school education increasingly costly.
Day schools face two related challenges. The first is sustainability; this refers to the long-term financial viability of a school — things like balancing the budget and being able to withstand short- and long-term financial challenges, including the need to invest in an excellent educational program and increased demand for tuition assistance. The other concerns affordability and the individual parent’s perception of cost and value — knowing that the education their children are receiving is worth their investment. Affordability also refers to what a family can realistically contribute of household income.
Day schools as a field face a crisis of both sustainability and affordability. We may have the best educational product out there, but if our institutions are not properly funded and individual families cannot afford to send their children, our model is not sustainable. Dan Perla, Senior Director of Financial Vitality at Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, estimates that day schools nationally are systemically underfunded by $400-$500 million annually. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington provides over $400 per student to each day school in our area.
What are some ideas about these issues? Raising significant endowments, advocating for state funding for operational and non-religious-related costs, investing in serious marketing to meet the roughly 30 percent under capacity in schools, having schools share costs, experimenting with new tuition models, and advocating for increased communal support are a few suggestions. My school just completed an $18-million endowment campaign to address this issue and our total endowment is among the largest of all day schools, yet our school needs much more significant financial support from visionary funders.
Since affordability is a field-wide issue, I believe that it also requires a communal approach. The field needs bold communal thinking and solutions to ensure the future of day schools.
Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, Head of School, CESJDS, Rockville, Md.
I appreciated Gabe Aaronson’s report on “Tackling Tuition.” As the President of the Berman Hebrew Academy, I felt his points rang true, reflecting conversations held regularly within our school. We are always cognizant of the sacrifices that our families make in order to invest in their children’s education. It is our mission and our passion to ensure that their investment yields bountiful returns. Those returns take the form of a challenging academic curriculum in both general subjects and limudei kodesh (Judaic studies). They include an inspirational Jewish experience powered by Torah and infused with the love for Hashem and curiosity about our world that are the hallmarks of Modern Orthodox Judaism, and for which there is no parallel or substitute in our area. They are delivered in a caring community culture that strives to educate the whole child. The product of these efforts is best measured in our graduates — well-educated, well-prepared, inspired, mature, curious, ambitious young Jewish men and women who go on to be successful in yeshivot and seminaries, college, and life.
These outcomes are not met on the cheap, and Berman’s professional management works overtime to ensure that every dollar is spent wisely while delivering a best-of-breed educational experience inside and outside the classroom. It is with confidence and pride that we ask parents to partner with us — at a high cost, certainly, but for an even greater value.
Our commitment to making this education available to a wide range of families is best demonstrated by the three million dollars in tuition assistance that we award every year through a process committed to the principles of equity and discretion. We are proud that year after year we meet 100 percent of documented need as determined by our third-party services. The generosity of our donors and The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, and the hard work of our staff and volunteers make it feasible for hundreds of families each year to have access to a top-notch Modern Orthodox Jewish education. No family should be barred by cost, and I would encourage any family concerned about their ability to pay to engage our confidential financial aid process before coming to a conclusion.
May we all redouble our commitment to the joyous work of nurturing young Jewish women and men, and be blessed with seeing our entire community grow in strength and in Torah.
David Sloan, President, Melvin J Berman Hebrew Academy, Rockville, Md.
It was a pleasure to read your front-page article on August 3, 2017, concerning day-school tuition in the DC area. As the principal of the Leo Bernstein Jewish Academy of Fine Arts, I appreciate how you shared the double challenge of paying for a quality Jewish education. On one hand, the schools need funds to run and on the other hand, parents are overburdened with expensive tuition.
My school definitely feels the concerns that you have so clearly and strongly brought forth with your article. One of the very important and practical ways LBJA helps our community’s families, especially families paying full tuition, as that with the help of a gracious synagogue and rabbi we are able to offer a tuition rate of $12,500 and generous sibling discounts.
Being in the heart of Kemp Mill, we are at a quick and accessible location for many of your readers. We offer a full S.T.E.A.M program in addition to a Fine Arts program (including music). Our Judaic program is comprehensive and includes Hebrew immersion. In addition, our small class sizes give every student the opportunity to excel. At LBJA, tuition is more affordable and parents get the most from every dollar they spend. Additionally, we offer early care, after-school care as well as fun educational clubs and a strong soccer program.
Comparatively low tuition, sibling discounts, and competitively-priced educational after-care programming help relieve the burden from hard-working Jewish families.
Thank you again for your research and informative article. At LBJA, we are doing our best to help our community with the tuition crisis.
Helen Goldberg, Director, Leo Berstein Jewish Academy of Fine Arts, Silver Spring, Md.