Neither Solves the Problem and Might Even Contribute to It
Joe Schick and another friend referred me to an article written by his father that appeared in the Jerusalem Post. The article can now be found on Marvin Schick's website. The article advocates for pursuing government aid for private and parochial schools, an approach that I certainly think should be pursued.
However, the article also refers to an interest-free loan program that has caught my attention. Here is a quote from the article,
"AN INTEREST-FREE loan program to assist day school parents with tuition is reportedly about to be unveiled. Any effort to ameliorate the expanding Jewish tuition crisis deserves consideration.
I sense, however, that this is not the way to go - even with $100 million available for loans - because the dollars and numbers do not work out in view of the size of day school families, the number of years (as many as 14) that children are enrolled in day school and the rising cost of tuition.
Yossi Abramowitz, a leading advocate of the loan approach, seems to think that it will go a long way to resolving the tuition crisis. American day school education is now a $2 billion dollar a year enterprise. While Abramowitz favors loans, he opposes government aid, saying that "if we go after [tax] credits and vouchers, we'll divide the country over church-state issues for a mere $1,000."
If he did the arithmetic, he would see that "a mere $1,000" per day school student amounts to more than $200 million dollars a year, which is a far larger sum and far more meaningful than a one-time loan program. "
It took a while to settle my thoughts about an interest free loan program, but now that my thoughts have settled, I decided that it was time to put my fingers to the keyboard.
I do not believe that an interest free loan program to assist parents in paying tuition is good solution in the least. But, I fear that it is a "sexy" solution that could ultimately do more harm than good.
Why do I say more harm than good, you ask? There are numerous reasons that I believe this is true. The first and foremost reason that I believe that free loans could do more harm than good is that free loans do nothing to tackle the real problem: the cost of tuition. All the while, this "solution" could threaten to take already scare funds away from the schools themselves and scholarship funds, leaving tuition to continue rising, while the supporters of the program pat themselves on the back thinking that this "BandAid" covered cuts many times its size.
Secondly, debt financing is no long term solution and debt leaves the payer and those surrounding the payer believing that everything is just fine. But, debt that finances living beyond your means, catches up no matter what. Interest free debt certainly is less painful than interest financing and there certainly is something to be said for temporary alleviation, but when Jewish education spans a minimum of 13-14 years per child, why are we trying to treat a gaping wound with a BandAid?
Lastly, I fear that the poorest among us will be turned away by scholarship committees everywhere and told to borrow money to finance their children's education. Currently, parents are being told to turn to just about anyone (usually their own parents and grandparents) before they appeal to the school and its scholarship committee. Our current multi-billion dollar educational infrastructure is already being propped up by those that should be saving for their own rainy day. How much longer will we continue to try to prop up a system that is showing cracks, instead of seek more permanent and meaningful relief?
Marvin Schick advocates for school vouchers, a cause that I support also and a cause that I support for reasons beyond that of Jewish education. I hope that school vouchers are a reality. But, I certainly don't want to hang my hat on that one sliver of hope alone, allow I hope that someday vouchers will be a reality. (Editor's Note: Marvin's Schick's main advocacy is for communal support of day schools. This should not be lost in the discussion and I apologize for leaving this note out of my post).
We need more solutions and not just BandAids.