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Monday, June 11, 2007

JO Review: Guidelines for Tuition

It may take me a very long time to finish my review of the Jewish Observer's Tuition Dilemma issue, but I'm trying. Below are links to my first two reviews. There will be more to follow, I hope.

JO Review: Tuition, A Dilemma?
JO Review: Of Facts and Figures

The second article in the "Tuition Dilemma" feature was titled "Guidelines for Tuition." It is basically a question and answer session with HaRav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt"l regarding guidelines for tuition policies for Yeshiva Bais Dovid in Monsey. These guidelines were not presented as halacha le'ma'aseh, as every Yeshiva and community is different, but as an expression of "da'as Torah."

I found the following exchanges interesting [My (highly disorganized) notes are in orange]:

1. Regarding Setting the Tuition Schedule: [As part of a larger exchange] Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt"l states "What is the fair share? You must take the entire budget and divide it by the number talmidim, to arrive at "cost per child." If the parent can afford to pay the entire "cost," he must do so, out of his own pre-tzedaaka funds. If he cannot afford to pay the entire "cost," then he should pay some of his tuition out of pre-tzedaka funds, and he may pay the balance out of his tzeddaka funds. The directors must decide how much he must pay. The parent should ask his own rav to determine what portion may come from his tzeddaka funds."

This approach to setting tuition is so logical that one assume that this is exactly how every school would set tuition, yet I don't believe I know a single school that sets tuition using this formula (perhaps the school that receive the guideline from R' Kamenetzky ?). Any school offering automatic tuition reductions, sibling discounts, etc is not using this formula. A friend of ours told us that his son's school is in a bind because it has relied on a particular donor for many years, and this donor has "subsidized" (for lack of a better word. . . .regular readers know I am in favor of community wide support for schools) the tuition of all, regardless of whether or not the parents should have been contributing/paying more to their children's schools.

Of course, there are also solid reasons why tuition would be set in a different fashion and I believe the majority of schools do not set tuition using such a straightforward method. Some schools don't want to charge "full price" because they already see that a large number of students (even the majority) receive reductions as it is and they don't want to have to force more parents in front of the scholarship committee, which is bound to create bitter feelings. In other schools, parents might leave the school, forcing those who stay to carry an even heavier burden.

I am unsure of what the best approach is in terms of setting tuition. In an ideal world, funding Jewish education would be a first priority. But, it seems that Jewish Education for elementary, middle, and high school students gets the short stick. I do think that no matter how tuition is set, a "price per student" should be disclosed.

2. Sons vs. Daughters: "While there is an obligation on every father to educate his daughters, it is not correct to split tuition money evenly amongst boys and girls, for the father has a great obligation for his sons, and he should therefore allocate a larger portion of his tuition funds for them."

I have to wonder how this works in practice! Does the Bais Yaakov down the block willing take less tuition for siblings because they are educating girls, or does the committee ask for their "fair share" too? In co-ed schools and in "associated" boys and girls schools (separate campuses, but shared faculty and overhead), I don't think such is particularly relevant as parents are really paying per family, boys and girls together.

As for me, I just can't see putting this into play as a parent. Should we need tuition reductions and our children are in completely separate schools, as opposed to "associated" schools, I just can't see myself bargaining for a bigger reduction from a girls school than a boys schools. I can't argue on the priority of putting a son's Torah education above a daughter's, but when it comes to K-12 education I don't make a distinction between my sons and daughters. I figure they are each just picking up basic literacy.

3. Documentation for Tuition Reductions: The question asked is as follows: Is there as "percentage of income" rule that can be applied to tuition? We have heard that other yeshivos apply a 10-15% of Gross Income Rule, in order to determine the amount of tuition. Is there any basis for this in din or otherwise? Rav Kamenetzky zt"l: "The 10-15% of Income Rule does not work at all, since people resent submitting their income tax returns to a tuition committee, and we should not make an effort in that direction. It is not productive. Rather, the committee should take note of the year-round-life style of the parent, and then negotiate with him."

First off, I had to laugh about a 10-15% of gross income rule. All in all, 10-15% of our gross income is a large chunk of money. . . . . . . the sad thing is that this amount will not cover tuition for ONE high school student, although it will cover one tuition for elementary. . . and my husband does pretty well, baruch Hashem. I know families paying well over 50% (and higher) of their gross incomes to educate their children.

I don't know about the standard operating procedure for tuition reductions "in town" (The 5 Boros and Monsey), but here in my "out of town" community, submitting tax returns is standard. The scholarship form also includes detailed information about income (including food stamps/WIC/Section 8), savings, and expenses and even asks how much money your children earn from their own jobs like babysitting a year (!). Besides the cost of a family's last simcha and the wife's last sheitel purchase, I don't see any stone left unturned.

Maybe there was a time where parents would not submit tax returns and it was too much to ask (my parents are of this school of thought and never had us apply for financial aid for college). Do you feel a tax return is overly invasive? I think it is invasive, but I find the scholarship form and all of its disclosures far more uncomfortable.

In addition, I really can't imagine how a scholarship committee can evaluate the year-round-lifestyle of a family and maximize tuition dollars *collected* without being invasive. There are extremely modest people out there with plenty in the bank and people living the lavish life that just won't be able to pony up the cash for tuition because they are maxed out. (A side note: the tax return isn't a magic pill either. With a complicated return, self-employment, etc, it can be near impossible to figure out what a person actually brings in).

Your thoughts?

I'm looking forward to hearing all of your comments. I did enjoy this part of the JO Tuition Dilemma piece and I'm glad they included it. It gave me a lot to think about and I'm looking forward to your comments.


DAG said...

As I see it, many schools set tuition higher than the per student cost. Full paying students, then, pay their share + a portion of the scholarship for another child.

In any event, as I would argue throughout the world of Jewish administration, we need fewer choices. Combining schools, organizations, etc would save MILLIONS of communal Dollars annually.

Unfortunately, coming from the inside on this matter, I have seen the incredible waste that can come from incompetent administrators who are in their positions because of their ability to learn Gemorah, not their ability to run a school or an organization. Competent administrative staff would also save untold Millions a year.

Our schools and organization are in the Public Trust. They are not fiefdoms that can be run at the whim of a particular Rabbi and his family. We must DEMAND open books at all of our schools and organizations, and we must REFUSE to support ANY Rabbi, regardless of who he is (or who he thinks he is) to run a school or an organization without significant Board oversight.

miriam said...

I don't think tuition comes close to covering the school's costs here... not from the tons and tons of fundraising that goes on here. (Out of town, and a lot of large families.) The past couple of years they've had to dip into their endowment funds to balance the budget... but this year there's a new Tax Credit Law on the books in RI that lets corporations make donations in return for a tax credit from the state.

See here:

Excerpt: "With the tax credit, eligible families can now apply for private school tuition support for students in kindergarten through grade 12. Students that come from a household with annual income less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level (approximately $50,000 a year for a family of four) are eligible for tuition support — approximately 91,000 families in Rhode Island."

Since that number (250% of poverty rate) increases with the number of children you have, this especially benefits families with large numbers of children, and benefits the school (and the donating corporations) at the same time. We're anticipating a balanced budget this year because of this law.

triLcat said...

I know a great Yeshiva High School that charges about $2500/year.

Impossible, you say? Sure, in America!!!!!

It's time to make aliya, people!

David said...

If families are paying 40-50% of their income in tuition, why wouldn't it be more efficient to either home-school + hire a rabbi to tutor or perhaps even send children to secular schools and hire a tutor?

It's expensive to build infrastructure, and the demographics of Orthodoxy (relatively large numbers of children per family, mostly middle-class income levels) are working against what we've been doing. Maybe we should do something new?

Anonymous said...

I pay over $120,000 per year on my children's tuition. Our gross family income is $280,000 per year. If we did not have relatives that help we could not make it. My kids yeshivos charge whatever the market will bear and ask for over $20,000 for high school and over $10,000 for elementary school. What a racket!
this does not include lunch and summer programming. One of my kids made it into an Ivy League college--a bargain compared to yeshiva and my teen got an attractive scholarship package. Did I fail to mention that yeshivos do not offer merit scholarships or for that matter anything that would interfere with whatever the market will tolerate structure for tuition.

Halfnutcase said...

Personaly I agree with setting up communal boards of jewish education and banning privately owned jewish schools. The resulted unification of schools would indeed save us alot of money as dag said.

That would also mean that we would need to have a much more inclusive jewish education system that would include lots of different ideological stripes, which is probably why this hasn't happened yet.

The sad thing is that halacha supports this approach.

we need to return to a communal structure instead of a subcommunal structure it we are to continue to survive on any level. This means unifying the entire community and having ONE Set of schools, ONE cemetary (or set or associated ones) And ONE rabbinate, or association or board of rabbis, one bais din and kasherus orginization, etc. all under a board of elected lay leaders.

all funds are directed to the board, which will be distributed as needed amoungst the subsidary orginazations, and free, or nearly free participation in all offerings associated with the board.

and hopefully if we structure the bylaws right, we can protect people from abusive rabanim

SephardiLady said...

Anon above-It is just scary that families with incredibly high incomes are reliant on their families, and I know you are not alone. One wonders what will happen with your children.

Mind writing a guest post? You can email me.

Also, what do you pay in taxes. My estimate would be around $75,000 between federal and state if my guess about your family size is correct.

I image that after taxes are taken out, you have around $200,000 to spend. If $120,000 is going to tuition and more going to summer camp/day care, I'm guessing you have about $60,000 left to spend on a large family.

Am I correct?

Annie said...

I'd just like to add that many colleges have what is called a "silent scholarship." They set tuition, which is a certain amount below the cost of education (this lowers the number of students on financial aid) and it is subsidised through other sources.

This is close to one of SL's suggestions, I just thought that I should mention that it is in practice.

Honestly Frum said...

$150,000 with 2 or 3 kids in Yeshiva is the new middle to low class. You have to figure if you are making that much then taxes are about 40% b/c you are considered to be in the highest tax bracket. Leaving 90,000, after taxes. $11,000 a kid in elementary school $22,000-33,000 (not including the thousands of extra $ that include script, dinner, building fund) leaving $68,000-57,000 for mortgage, taxes (which could be very high in suburban communities, even for smaller properties), food utilities, insurance, car. Bottom line is you are in debt. It is out of control with seemingly no relief in sight. There are a lot of great ideas out there (UJA of Metro West Jersey, Livingston area, has gone ahead with creating a super fund) but very few of these plans are being implemented. A friend of mine suggested to me that perhaps the schools in the outer boroughs join together and get the teachers into some sort of a BJE so that they can have better purchasing power. But short of some drastic changes to the system now the vast majority of the community is headed towards Bankruptcy. None of these figures take into account summer camp, or G-d forbid savings.

RAM said...

There is no point in now "demanding" anything from the existing patchwork of privately owned and operated educational institutions.

Communities serious about education need get their rabbinic and lay leaders on board to devise and implement:

1. Cooperative purchasing of goods (such as books and food) and services (such as janitorial and maintenance help) as a service to schools.
2. Cooperative special education as a service to schools.
3. Cooperative general studies education (all or part of the general studies curriculum) as a service to schools.
4. Independent auditor review of schools' financial books and practices as a precondition for providing the above community services, or direct community financial support, to those schools.

DAG said...

Half...I would even allow for 2-4 school choices depending on the makeup of the neighborhood. What we don't need are 30 choices when 4 will suffice.

Competent administrators and sound fiscal policy alone would save Millions...These little fiefdoms we've created need to be disbanded. And it all goes back to the Kollel system. One reason we have so many schools is that we have so many Kollel graduates who are too "Kavodick" to be simple teachers or Rebbeim. So they form their OWN schools or organization and make themselves dictator for life...and then pass the school to their son/son in law

Anonymous said...

I never understand when these tuition crisis discussions start veering into consolidation as an answer. NY and NJ spend around $14,000 per pupil (culled from a CNN story.) With a double curriculum to support that cost is just going to be higher if anything. I'm not saying that people are not suffering but this is just a function of living in a frum society where the cost of education is borne completely by the parents, and where each set of parents could have up to 6-8 or even more kids to support.

While waste is probably there it's not the root cause of our problems. Assume 10% or even 20% is wasted. The person paying 120k would pay 96 to 108k. I guess that is better but that is assuming that you could find enough waste to cut, and in the end the parent is still paying astronomically high prices which most can not afford.

Add to that that one's man waste is another's treasure. Music, guidance counselors, teachers with advanced degrees, computers, small class sizes, and the list goes on. Are they all really necessary? No. But many parents would not want a school without at least some of these "frills".


DAG said...

I'm not talking about talking about incompetence....Public schools have fed regulations that require the expenditure of monies that private schools can avoid.

Communally we have enough money to support our needs...if we were responsible in how we spend it.

SephardiLady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Halfnutcase said...

look, if we ensure that all teachers are full time, meaning that in a highschool of maybe 500-1000 students, we have only a handfull of gemorah teachers who cycle from class to class, (meaning different people are learning gemorah at different times) then we are going to find that we can save a whole lot of money rather than loosing it all on having 20-40 different gemorah teachers (at a 25 people per class) in addition to teachers for other lumudei kodesh subjects, and limudei chol subjects, which can leave you with instead of 20-40 specialist teachers in all subjects who rotate classes so that everyone has a specialist in their subject, you end up with 20-40 hebrew rebbeim, all of whom may be stellar in one subject but seriously lacking in another, or just having more average teachers in everything, in addition to maybe 20-50 limudei chol teachers, and maybe even more teachers who are the mashgiach, or some other associated role, which could leave a school of a thousand with a teacher to student ratio of something like 1:12 with class sizes of 25 or larger!

That in and of it's self would probably save enormous amounts of money each year, and would boost the teachers saleries in to the liveable range to boot! Not to mention paying for maybe 1 school building instead of 3 or 4 school building (millions saved right there) and one set of matinence staff instead of 3 or 4 sets of matinence staff, and having a number of fully employed secretaries instead of each school having a number of part timers, in staff costs you save bundles, plus you can afford to buy things at better prices and the list goes on and on.

SephardiLady said...


A few things:

1. The average costs for educating a public school student are nearing $14,000 in NYC, but high school is far lower, which must indicate a higher level of efficiency. Charlie Hall (a blogger and commenter) did a bit of research for me and found me the NYC per capita costs 2004-05.

2. The Public School system is very expensive, mostly due to red tape and beuracracy. However, the frum school "system" is not a system and therefore there is tremendous duplication. The Catholic school system is a better model of efficiency. . . . . one reason: they do close schools when the school is too small and students can be abs

3. The double curriculum costs more argument does not pass muster with me. I went to public school and you might call it a "triple curriculum": vocational programs, a competitive sports programs (20 plus teams, varsity and JV), and music programs are expensive too. Maybe I will write a post about why I don't buy into double curriculum must cost more.

4. I agree that schools should offer some thrills. And I don't believe the thrills are what makes this education system increasingly out of risk.

Please keep the comments coming. More tuition posts to come.

triLcat said...

Anonymous said...
I pay over $120,000 per year on my children's tuition. Our gross family income is $280,000 per year.

If you could earn even 1/3 as much in Israel, you'd be living much better. Housing is cheaper, education is LOADS cheaper, and you can easily send kids to day camps for a few hundred dollars per summer instead of sending the kids to sleepaway camp.

I think the education crisis is G-d's way of telling you all to come home!

Anonymous said...


Many rabbis don't accept home schooling. I hate to by cynical, but they don't have control over your children's training that way. I made that suggestion to my then-rabbi and was turned down. They don't particularly care whether you can afford a good school (or even afford a school, period). Indoctrination of the next generation into their chosen stringencies is part of the process. They're not going to give it up.

Anonymous said...

1. Agreed that this is true in the public school system. Public High School costs are probably around 10k (I looked at only a few). I wonder why private high schools never charge less than their elementary school counterpart?

2. You say the public school system is more expensive because of all of the red tape. So how do we think consolidating all day schools will help? As someone with accounting experience you must understand that much of this red tape is in place to protect the system from abuse. The bigger the system the more opportunity for financial and other forms of abuse to take place. Thus "protections" are put into place, i.e. red tape. Without much of the red tape issues such as financial accountability and due process in dealing with personnel goes out the window. And finally the Catholic schools are going through a huge financial crisis, and the pay is around 25% less than public school teachers.

3. Sports programs, music and other extras are constantly being cut in the interest of saving money. The more a student is in school, the more man hours necessary. And if those man hours are filled in by hopefully highly educated mechanchim the cost has to go up.

4. What I meant by the frills comment was that you could open up tomorrow a giant school with basic Jewish and secular education that could house 1000 students, where each class had 30 kids and where the teachers were high school graduates which would probably cost you half of what day schools now cost. The more modern you are the more you are going to want at least a better secular education. And that just costs money.

But all of this is pointless. There are day schools (not a lot but some) that do file 990s. And there are probably some schools that would tell you what percentage of their budget goes to teacher salary . I really believe that salary will be the lion's share and that is something that just won't be helped by any sort of consolidation.


HAGTBG said...

average costs for educating a public school student are nearing $14,000 in NYC,

Yeah, but does this include special education?

If it does, you have some students there who cost $100,000 per year or even more. I've heard for grade school, its about 25% of the overall budget. Yeshivas don't touch those kids.

But if they're counted in the overall statistics of NYC, it skews upwards all theirs costs by several thousand dollars.

At the same time many NYC high schools are really bad so comparing to them is not really something to be recommended.

SephardiLady said...

I forgot the link to the info from Charlie Hall. This really deserves its own post:

In the 2004-05 year it cost $11,969 to educate the average public school student. Elementary cost more, $12K, high school less, $10K. Special Ed IS included in the average and averages over $48K per capitia. These figures INCLUDE transportation.

The second report includes pensions and other "regional costs." While these figures are also interesting they can't be used for comparision purposes since our schools have neither pensions nor central administration.

AFAIK, the NYC school system is not known for efficiency. It is probably too big. But, running individual schools isn't too efficient either.

Regarding RWN's comments back

1. It is possible priave costs more. It is also possible that scholarships are greater at that level and/or that the parents have greater buy-in at that point.

2. There are some schools that literally could be placed inside another school without increasing staff. Larger schools also can host the "frills" for a lot less per student. A band class in a Day School might have 10 students. My band class in middle school had over 60 students in each class. Talk about bang for the buck! But that would be grandiose consolidation. Smaller consolidation could include running payroll from a central site, forming purchasing blocks, bargaining for health insurance, etc.

Consolidating would also create a more central address for fundraising.

3 and 4-We already have plenty of seminary grads teaching in our schools!

Anonymous said...

3 and 4-We already have plenty of seminary grads teaching in our schools!


Precisely! You will not find seminary grads teaching in more "prestigious" MO schools where a BA if not an MA is required. And it is those schools that have the outrageous tuitions. You get what you pay for as far as having degreed teachers.

The same may hold true as far as public school and teacher certifications.


Ari Kinsberg said...

from a burden perspective, you can't compare tuitions at public schools and yeshivot. in the former the burdern is shared by the public at large (whether you have children in school or not). in the latter it is an individual burder. even if all jews in a community band together to support a local school, this is still does not equal the communa burdern for public schools because a) the jewish community may be much smaller b) orthodox families have more kids, creating a greater per-capita burden even when spread across the entire community

"These guidelines were not presented as halacha le'ma'aseh, as every Yeshiva and community is different, but as an expression of "da'as Torah."

no difference for most people

"out of his own pre-tzedaaka funds."

people have a limited amount of tzedakah money, so this will only shift needy cause. every dollar from tzedakah funds for tuition means less for tomechei shabbat, hatzalah, etc. i'm not saying that tuition shouldn't be a priority, but there are implications.

"regular readers know I am in favor of community wide support for schools"

i think the best short-term solution is individual benefactors, a la lev leviev in queens and russia

"In an ideal world, funding Jewish education would be a first priority."

enough museums, community centers, university chairs in jewish studies, etc. unforunately most people will give to anything but k-12 education.

"price per student should be disclosed."

yes. this way people will stop complaining they are being ripped off.

"for the father has a great obligation for his sons, and he should therefore allocate a larger portion of his tuition funds for them."

am i the only one troubled by this

""percentage of income" rule"

a friend recently told me his kids' school uses a figure of something like 50%.

"since people resent submitting their income tax returns to a tuition committee"

it is hard for me to say this with memories from my parents in mind, but tough. this is the best way to assure people are being honest and engaging in full disclosure (not to say that people don't cheat on taxes, but does rav. k. have a better assesment method?)

"Do you feel a tax return is overly invasive?"


"I really can't imagine how a scholarship committee can evaluate the year-round-lifestyle of a family and maximize tuition dollars *collected* without being invasive."

tough. we must be careful with every dollar.

"Besides the cost of a family's last simcha and the wife's last sheitel purchase, I don't see any stone left unturned."

expenses for "fancy" affairs, "real" vacations, etc. should be taken in account. don't ask me how.

"I did enjoy this part of the JO Tuition Dilemma piece"

i enjoyed readin it

"I'm looking forward to your comments."

i look forward to your post dubunking the double curriculum expense. i've always thought this was one reason.

Ari Kinsberg said...

i am going to have a post tomorrow (?) about the other "crisis" (housing), though more sarcastic than constructive (too difficult).

i'd be interested in your perspective as a foreigner (out-of-towner, whatever)

HAGTBG said...

Looking at the figures you've linked to:

Teachers on average account for just under 50% of their expenses. Yeshivas have a double faculty.

How is this expense debunked?

Ari Kinsberg said...

SephardiLady said...

Ari thanks for the story. I will have something to say about it.

In addition, I am in agreement about your disagreement. I guess I didn't make it clear in my words, but boys and girls are an equal priority for us as far as K-12 education goes.

As far as double curriculum, I just can't buy into it in full. Public schools offer far more than the three R's. I'd say the vocational + physical ed and sports + band and drama offerings should counts as a double curriculum of sorts.

Before I get blogging, can I ask my readers if teacher's aides in elementary school are standard in your local Jewish elementary school? I never had one in public school, but teacher's adies seem standard in many frum schools.

Ari Kinsberg said...

"I'd say the vocational + physical ed and sports + band and drama offerings should counts as a double curriculum of sorts."

1) does a teacher in a yeshivah who only teaches half the day actually only get half a day's pay? if not, then you have a double curruclum problem.

2) benefits in jewish schools usually stink, but whatever they are, the school pays for them even though the teachers only work half a day. so for every teacher public school gives insurance to, the yeshivah must give it to 2 teachers.

"if teacher's aides in elementary school are standard in your local Jewish elementary school"

when i went to school there was no such thing. i think my (mo) elementary school does have them today, but i don't know about the other schools in brooklyn.

with 30+ kids in a classroom, an aide is a justifiable expense.