The Fall 5766/2005 Jewish Action, featured an entire spread of articles on tuition and financial issues in yeshivot and day schools, appropriately titled "The Tuition Squeeze." One particular article, by Dr. Nachum Klafter of Cincinnati, entitled "In Defense of Tuition" prompted a continued debate in the Spring 5766/2006 issue of Jewish Action.
In the original article, Dr. Klafter (executive VP and education committee chairman for the Cincinnati Hebrew Day School Board) made the case that "Jewish Day School education is Orthodox Day School education is already highly subsidized." He referenced figures indicating that, on average, tuition payers in Orthodox schools are "paying just a little over half of the cost of the children's education [57%]." He asked "if it costs $13,000 to educate your son or daughter, how much of this money can you expect others to provide?" And, he made the case for minimum tuitions, writing "Many people I have spoken with consider me insensitive for suggesting that the school require a non-negotiable minimum tuition fee (below which no scholarships are available, regardless of income level) of 25 to 30 percent of the total amount it costs the school to educate a child." Lastly, Dr. Klafter makes the case that schools must operate as businesses, as uncollected tuitions threaten the very existence of the schools.
There is no doubt, in my mind at least, that this piece in Jewish Action was the most uncomfortable read. It challenged everyone directly involved in day schools and yeshivot: the administrators, the lay leaders, and the parents.
And, to date, this is the only article that has fueled further debate in the Letters to the Editor. The Vice President of Politz Day School in Cherry Hill, NJ, Dr. Noah Lindenberg, wrote to Jewish Action stating "I strongly disagree with Dr. Klafter when he suggests a minimum tuition policy. This self-destructive policy would inevitably preclude many well-meaning but poor children from obtaining the ultimate Jewish a value, a yeshivah education. Grants there will always be those who take advantage of lax tuition policies, but that is the price we must pay to ensure that not even one legitimate sutdnet is turned away because of a lack of means."
While my heart wants to agree with the challenger (Dr. Lindenberg), but my head gets in the way. My head tells me that minimum tuitions are fast becoming a necessity. As Dr. Klafter so aptly states is his response to the challenger, "Jewish Day Schools run on money-not on sentiment."
And, apparently, I am not alone in my thoughts on minimum tuitions. According to this article in Los Angeles's Jewish Journal, sent to me by a friend and loyal reader, minimum tuitions are soon to become a reality in some locales:
At Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn Toras Emes, the two principals, Rabbi Berish Goldenberg and Rabbi Yakov Krause, handle financial aid personally. Last year, the school allocated more than $2 million in tuition subvention. Goldenberg estimates that only 350 to 400 of his 1,100 students are paying full tuition, which added to fees comes to about $12,000 a year for the first child (as at most schools, there is a sibling discount and teachers get an automatic break).
The parent body includes many teachers at other schools, as well as rabbis and Jewish communal professionals who serve the wider community. Many of them have large families.
Toras Emes is currently phasing in a minimum tuition requirement of $3,500, so that every family is paying something. (Goldenberg expects exceptions to that minimum, too.)
Like most yeshivas, Toras Emes functions in the red, constantly begging and borrowing to make payroll and pay bills.
I don't doubt that LA's Toras Emes, a Yeshiva World school, is alone in having only a small percentage of students enrolled paying full tuition (32%, in this case). Nor do I doubt that Toras Emes is alone in its inability to make payroll, as I know a number of (now former) employees of a number of different Yeshivot that were never paid for their services. Unfortunately, lack of regular funding (tuition being a regular source) and payment for services, is a vicious cycle that feeds off each other, especially when those who need paid are tuition payers themselves!
The subject of minimum tuitions brings tears to my eyes. Dr. Lindenberg rightly points out that there will be casualties, if non-negotiable minimum tuitions were ever instituted. I already know of a family that is unable to enroll all of their children in day schools due to the minimum tuition offered by the school (I don't believe that there is an official minimum tuition policy in their community, but the minimal tuition required per child is well beyond their reach). This coming year, they will be homeschooling all of their children.
Yet, others rightly worry about the financial viability of current schools and worry about the future. Parents, even parents with respectable and steady incomes, are finding themselves stretched to the max, barely able to cover their own tuitions, much less tuitions for others. And, there are fewer and fewer gvirim who are able or willing to underwrite the operating costs of a school.
While I doubt that a community could ever institute a completely non-negotiable minimum tuition, I do see some advantages of making a minimum tuition known and enforcing it, as permissible by halacha. One advantage that I can see if that everyone would be contributing and no family would be perceived as completely "freeloading." The sinah caused by the perception that some are freeloading, whether justified or unjustified, is a serious issue.
Another advantage, perhaps bigger advantage, would be that young people (hopefully even young unmarried people) would be forced to discuss and plan for the future. I have heard too many young people say tuition is not a concern for them because "that's what scholarships are for." While I believe in scholarships, communal support, and more for our schools (as I hope I've demonstrated), I also realize that community support and endowments, etc are not strong enough today to take care of the present and the near future. I would like to believe that if young people understood their fiscal responsibility to their own children and to the klal, that they would be forced to make different decisions regarding earning, spending and debt, and saving. They may never be able to pay full tuitions, even for a "smaller" family. But, they would think twice about many things. And, even if young people still decided not to think about financial issues on their own initiative, maybe grandparents and future grandparents would sit them down for a good talk and plan session.
From what I can see, minimum tuitions are becoming more and more of a reality as it is, whether or not the policy is official. The disadvantages are obvious. The advantages are also present.
What do you think?