Got Orthonomics in your Email Box?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tuition Vouchers: Perhaps it is Time to Stop Dreaming

Hat Tip: Charlie Hall

Bring up Orthodox day school/yeshiva tuition in a conversation and without fail someone will suggest lobbying the government for school vouchers. Nearly every tuition feature in nearly every major Jewish publication puts forward vouchers as the elusive solution.

While I support lobbying efforts on behalf of vouchers by major Orthodox organizations and while I, a lifelong conservative, am a supporter of vouchers even where frum interests are unconcerned, I think it is time to say loud and clear, "stop dreaming." Let's not pin our hopes on a pipe dream.

I don't want to wave a white flag, but the news out of Utah, probably the most conservative state in the Union, should provide a wake up call to the Orthodox community, most of whom live in some of the most liberal states and locales, that widespread vouchers won't be coming to a location near you anytime soon (even if some frum Jews in Milwaukee have benefitted).

Read the article yourself. It is well worth your time. With over 60% voting down vouchers of between $500-$3000 in a referendum, I think it is time we start looking at other pieces of the puzzle to put a dent in the Tuition Crisis.

21 comments:

LakewoodShmuck said...

making tuition all or partly tax deductible is an idea that I have read about. caveat being it opens the door to abuse. all the schools will start charging 15k per kid, 3 percent will pay in full. and ? will get kickbacks chas vshalom...
just thinking with my fingers.

SephardiLady said...

Unfortunately another idea that will probably never take off. The IRS went into litigation with a frum family in Los Angeles that tried to deduct 55% of their tuition (the religious portion). The law clearly doesn't allow it and isn't changing anytime soon. There is a lawyer trying to find litigants to test out the case in a different circuit, but I haven't heard of any volunteers coming forward.

Of course, even if no abuse took place, such a change in the tax code would benefit many people. But those who are already hit by the ATM (coincidently those who make too much to be eligible for scholarships) might not find their situation improved at all.

Anonymous said...

The solution is bitachon. Hashem will provide for the chinuch of those He created.

But the bitachon should NOT be demanded from the parents. The schools, the hanhala, the administration- those are the ones who can be expected to have enough Yiras Shomayim (otherwise why would we want them educating our kids?).

The hanhala should stop this stupidity. Charge the parents a nominal fee, say $2,000 or $3,000, and do what every other institution in the world does: FUNDRAISE!

Don't expect to cover your budget, or even most of it, with tuition. That's like expecting your babysitting income to cover your mortgage. Brilliant school-like solution: Charge $50/hour for babysitting!

Do you know that we have multitudes of Tzedaka organizations? We don't spread the burden around by making every family go door to door for Shabbos food assistance, why are we expecting families to become beggars on account of tuition?

For goodness sakes, even COLLEGES get bequests!

If they provide a good enough education, rich parents may even become a good source of fundraising...

Charlie Hall said...

Even I was stunned by the margin of defeat for the Utah voucher bill. I read one report that it lost 4-1 in Salt Lake City.

"FUNDRAISE!"

Catholics have started doing this for their schools:

http://www.nysun.com/article/50114

Note that a $3,000 tuition was deemed unaffordable! And the Catholic schools in New York are unionized so they have to pay decent wages and benefits. Can we hire officials from the Archdiocese to advise us as to what they are doing so that we can copy them?

Ahuva said...

There's also a dark side to vouchers.. In many areas, there aren't enough Jewish kids to provide a day school and in some of those areas all the private schools are Christian. Do we really want to encourage non-Jewish children to receive a radicalized Christian education while the Jews are stuck in the now-underfunded public classrooms? Part of the purpose behind public schools was to increase exposure to (and tolerance of) people who are different.

I support day schools, but not at the expense of public education. We all benefit from having the children around us receive a good education, even if we don't partake of it for ourselves.

Susan said...

Even if we did receive tuition vouchers for a few thousand dollars, it's a sure bet that many yeshivas will respond by raising their tuition so that parents are still paying the same amount. That's what happened in New York when free UPK (universal pre-kindergarten) programs where instituted. The program allows 4 year olds to go to school for free for 2 1/2 hours a day. The yeshivas that offered "free UPK" simply charged these parents the same amount for a full day that they had charged previously, and pocketed the amount that they received in government funding.
The only way to alleviate the financial burden on needy parents is to make fundraising for scholarship programs a priority in our communities.

Bob Miller said...

Most voters won't see any reason to support vouchers unless they expect to benefit directly. So the future of vouchers as a Jewish strategy depends on the broader population's desire to use private (including religious) schools instead of public schools. If there is ever a point at which the public school system loses general support, only then will the voucher movement have a chance.

Aryeh-Baltimore said...

Yikes Ahuva.... are you a closet member of a teacher's union or MoveOn.org? Our public schools are so radically overfunded considering the horrible quality of education received. Since the 1980s, we have over tripled school funding, to no effect. DC has the highest per-capita spending in the country, and the worst education. More money is not the solution (never is). Private schools do the same job as public schools for a fraction of the cost. And when a public school fails due to gross administrative incompetence combined with union rules that benefit poor performance, it is always blamed on "not enough money". I've seen interviews with school board members where they are flat out asked somthing like, "If $15,000 per student is not enough, then how much?" They can never give a dollar amount, only say "we need more'. Well, to get the vouchers, public schools would need to outperform the private schools and make students want to go there. If opponents of school vouchers are so sure nobody would want to go to a public school over a private if given the choice, then what does that say about their opinion of the public school system?

In addition, given the choice between a Christian education and a public school education, I would give my child the Christian education any day of the week. The public school will teach them the state religion of liberalism, combined with avoda zara worship of the Earth, complete sexual debauchery, and dumb their brain down with classes like "history of rock and roll" and repeated viewings of Al Gore and Michael Moore's movies. At least the Christian school would teach them to think critically, and would put them in a moral environment. I'd rather my children stay frum, but given the choice, I'd rather have them be devout Christians than an atheist liberal (G-d forbid to both). Atheism is actually worse than avoda zara. Besides, I think a frum child is much more likely to emerge from a Christian school still frum than from a public school still frum. I know a frum person that attended a real Christian college--they had more respect for their views as an Orthodox Jew than they did when they were at a secular college.

That all being said, I agree with SephardiLady. This will never pass. The same tricks being used to pass SCHIP will be used to prevent vouchers, claiming something is "for the children". Even when it runs against the best interest of children, critical thinking is seldom part of the political process. Also, even if the American public were to wake up and vote with their brains, the yeshivas would just up their tuition anyways.

It's funny--when we build weapons for our military (tanks, bombs, etc), we want the best of the best. It's all done with public dollars (as it should be), but we use private contractors who bid on their ability to make the best product for the least price. More and more government offices are filling with private contractors (security, accounting, etc), where public dollars go to private companies who do it better. America has the best health system in the country because we don't let the government run it (at least not yet, by the grace of G-d). We trust the private sector to do everything better, except education. Yes, there should be public funds for education, but there is no reason that education must be run by the government as well.

Charlie Hall said...

"Private schools do the same job as public schools for a fraction of the cost."

Not true. Government is more efficient at running schools, at least in terms of finances. The three private high schools in my neighborhood charge tuition of over $30,000 per year. The local Jewish high school is in the mid 20s. But Bronx High School of Science if free to any child living in New York City who can get in. A major reason why government run schools are more efficient is that there are substantial economies of scale; the per pupil cost of a large school is much smaller than that of a small school.


"I would give my child the Christian education any day of the week."

We are required to give up our lives rather than get close to avodah zara. Jews in the past have done so. You obviously would not.

"to get the vouchers, public schools would need to outperform the private schools and make students want to go there"

It is interesting that you are so enamored for educational markets but completely ignorant regarding labor markets. The reason that public school systems need more funding is mainly to attract better teachers. Countries such as Canada, not to mention states such as Connecticut, that pay their teachers more have better schools and the students do better on objective measures of performance.

"opponents of school vouchers"

There is one additional important reason why vouchers are a non-starter: Taxpayers know that vouchers mean tax increases. I suspect that is a major reason for the Utah loss. In any case, vouchers are probably dead for another generation after that crushing defeat.

The final reason that vouchers are a non-starter are that many of the proponents are people like Aryeh who want to destroy public schools. Most Americans actually think their public schools are ok and in some communities the citizens are willing to pay exorbitant taxes to support them. Destroying the public schools in well-off suburbs will results in drops in property values. If a voucher program is ever to be successful, its support will have to come from the Left and Center, and not the Right.

"we use private contractors who bid on their ability to make the best product for the least price"

I used to work for government contractors. I most cases the government would save a ton of money by having the work done by government employees because the contractor employees make a lot more money. I know that because I knew how much my counterparts on the government payroll were making. And of course the contractor has to take his profit.

"America has the best health system in the country because we don't let the government run it"

Actually, based on objective measures, the US ranks at or near the bottom compared to all other developed countries despite spending the most money.

Charlie Hall said...

Per pupil cost at Bronx High School of Science is $10,704:

http://schools.nyc.gov/SchoolPortals/10/X445/AboutUs/Statistics/expenditures.htm

One reason for its low cost is that it had an enrollment of 2,676 students as of last week.

Zach Kessin said...

Charlie don't you know that introducing facts and actual data will only confuse things. It is so much easier to hang onto ideals when you don't introduce actual data into the mix.

Next thing we know you will be brining statistics to support your arguments.
[/sarcasm]

Anonymous said...

Charlie,

Bronx science works well in large part because it is an exam school. I know any number of teachers who have left the public schools for lower paying jobs in private schools because of better working conditions. Principally, they get rid of kids who are too disruptive. Public schools used to do that too, but don't anymore.

And I have some experience with both civil service and private contractors for technical work. The contractors cost more, as you say, but in my experience the good ones are a much better value, as they are far more capable. The civil servants are a mix of a few capable individuals committed to public service and too many minimally competent time servers.
The good contractors get rid of the latter. I am not sure how that applies in education, but, anecdotally, when I was in middle school, far longer ago than I would care to admit, in a large suburban public school in a district well known for good schools, the only teacher who got removed for incompetance was so bad that one student threw another out his classroom window while he was teaching in it. And he didn't get fired, just moved to be an assistant librarian.

aryeh said...

I don't have time to respond to all of Charlie's points, but a few:
"We are required to give up our lives rather than get close to avodah zara. Jews in the past have done so. You obviously would not."
I was responding to Ahuva, who I know would not likely considering homeschooling an option. Given the choice between public school and Christian school, I would homeschool. Public schools are religious schools as well--they just enforce liberalism and atheism. A frum child will face far fewer problems in a Christian school than a public school, and will more than likely stay frum. Can't say that for the frum kids I've known in public school. Incidentally, most authorities do not consider Christianity avoda zara. In that case, gilui arayos would be what you should "die rather than get close to", and you're more likely to encounter that in public rather than private school.
"Actually, based on objective measures, the US ranks at or near the bottom compared to all other developed countries despite spending the most money."
So why does everybody come to the US when they get sick? Why are there medical tourism companies that get you out of England, Canada, and Israel to get you to the US when things go wrong? Explaining how health care really works is beyond a blog comment post, but suffice it is to say that by building a system so we all get free flu shots and don't have to pay for physicals, we end up with a system that takes care of the basics, but can never hope to handle real medical problems.

SephardiLady said...

I have to say something. Every public school is different, so my experiences might not be the same as the next, but I do not believe my experiences in public school were antithetical to religious life and I think the many, many serious Mormon and Catholic students would agree.

At least at my school, all sex education materials and videos were pre-veiwed by parents and parents were allowed to pull their children out (as my did for one session). My father told me that after I left high school, the principal send everyone home at a particular dance because it got too dirty. Unacceptable behavior at one unsupervised party caused an entire (highly competitive) sports team to be dismissed in the middle of the season, including the coach's own son. Chances are they would have won the state title.

I will not sit here and claim there were no problems with drugs, pregnancy, etc. There were! But, I think that my schools were run very professionally and that the teachers were supportive of the values of the many conservative parents. And I do think public school gets an unnecessarily bad wrap in the frum community, even if I don't plan on sending my own kids there.

Halfnutcase said...

aryeh, unmarried boys and girls sleeping together does not constitute giluy arayos.

IT actualy isn't anything, other than between two jews a violation of niddah.

Halfnutcase said...

And I do think public school gets an unnecessarily bad wrap in the frum community, even if I don't plan on sending my own kids there.

my experience shows this as well. They were very accomodating towards my being religious.

and noone at all tried to preach any athiesm to anyone, although there were lots of christian overtones, and some silly attempts to make us jewish kids feel included.

SephardiLady said...

If there was an atheist teacher in my school, I didn't know about it. But there were teachers who advised a Christian Club that was started at my school during my time there. I was one of the few voices of dissention for this club (the idea was brought to the entire student body for discussion). Since then, I've grown up and wouldn't have felt "threatened" by such a (popular) club.

Charlie Hall said...

"Incidentally, most authorities do not consider Christianity avoda zara. "

If that is the case, why can't I make kiddush on Welch's Grape Juice?

"So why does everybody come to the US when they get sick?"

They don't. Most Europeans and Canadians get good care in their home countries. And some Americans even go elsewhere; one famous case was the late Sen. Spark Matsunaga, who went to Toronto for cancer treatment even though as a Senator he was entitled to the very best care here in the US, for free. And the worst care in those countries is far better than the worst in the US because a substantial fraction of the US population has no access to care at all.

"a system so we all get free flu shots and don't have to pay for physicals, we end up with a system that takes care of the basics, but can never hope to handle real medical problems"

Physicals are overrated, but vaccinations *prevent* disease and save the health care system a huge amount of money. It is very sad that there has been a recent measles outbreak in Eretz Yisrael because parents were not vaccinating their kids.

"noone at all tried to preach any athiesm to anyone, although there were lots of christian overtones"

My public school was very similar.

Charlie Hall said...

Our leaders still don't get it:

http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/article.php?p=11630

We can expect continued lack of success as long as our leaders continue to follow the same old policies that don't work. Sigh.

Charlie Hall said...

Just found this amazing article that describes what happens to religious schools that take government aid:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/11/AR2007111101462.html?hpid=sec-religion

There are in fact three states that pay the entire cost of private education for some students: Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut. However, only non-religious schools qualify.

Zach Kessin said...

The comments on theyeshivaworld piece seem to break down into 2 groups:
1) We must have vouchers.
2) A bunch of very rich Jews will fund it.

Of course there are no vouchers and well no one mentions who the Very rich jews are or if anyone has approached them.

Denile, its not just were Moshe got the frogs.