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).
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.