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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Can the Burden Be Spread?

An article printed in the 5TJT appears on VIN prompting over 150 comments. The article as printed at the 5TJT was titled "Getting Serious About the Tuition Crisis," while at VIN it was titled "New York - Economic Hardship Prompts Jewish Couples To Postpone Childbearing Until They Can Afford It" hence the proliferation of comments.

The article did mention briefly that there are some young people who discuss postponing children until they can "afford it," although that wasn't the entire focus of the article, just a note in the article that was highlighted by VIN. I'm not sure that the impact of tuition on family size is really anything new. What I do believe is new are the challenges that young people face.

Many couples are entering married life with limited income. The income issue isn't limited to kollel couples in the least! For every current kollel couple, I can think of several couples for which at least one spouse is a full time students (sometimes both). These families are in a highly transient stage of life and the working spouse might end up moving from job to job during this time, never quite setting down roots anywhere.

Compounding the limited income issue is that of debt, especially student loan debt. Student loan debt has become the norm and it isn't uncommon to find a couple carrying amounts topping six figures. As many of these young families do have children they find it more and more difficult to meet their debt obligations and their increased costs of day care, food, etc. A number of people will postpone payment on the student loans where they can show hardship to make room for cash needs now, but the loans are left to fester and often other debts creep up, what I like to call debt begetting debt.

But enough of that. While the VIN commentors scream about emunah and bitachon, I want to take a look at the author's three suggestions to alleviate a crisis that he properly acknowledges was years in the making:

1. Shift the financial burden of educating our children from a parental one to a communal one.
2. The schools need to reexamine their costs structures.
3. Get personal spending under control.

Number three really strikes a chord with me. When Yosef starting tackling the famine in Mitzrayim he started in year one. We are well into our own famine, but during the seven fat years, the level of spending can only be defined as obese (not in every household, of course, but in far too many). It sure isn't going to be easy trying to tackle the issues in year 9.

One has to wonder how different things would be for our Torah institutions and individual households if restraint had been exercised in nearly every area of spending for the past decade, two decades, or three decades. But you can't go back in time, so we have to lie in the bed we made. And the bed we are lying in was put on a credit card!

Which brings me to suggestion one. I have a number of other articles in my files suggesting the same, i.e. that the cost of a day school/yeshiva education needs to be shared by the entire community. I happen to agree with that suggestion. But, I also have to ask:

What percentage of households in the Orthodox community are NOT paying for education?

Is there any significant sliver of the Orthodox population that is not doing one of the following:
1. Paying off their own education(s),
2. Paying for at least one child's education
3. Paying for their grand children's education directly or indirectly through some type of support including non-monetary support such as regular babysitting so the adult children can make ends meet.

I sure do hope that there is a sizable population that with a bit of convincing will come to the rescue of our schools and lift some of the burden. But, when I look around my own shul, I don't see a large number of people who are not in the midst of paying for Jewish Education and/or teaching their son (daughter) a trade, or for that matter teaching them self a trade.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

If education is to become a communal cost, then why not also make other essentials like food, healthcare and care and support of the elderly and disabled also a communal cost? Those few who aren't paying for education, as you note, are either now trying to find a way to support themselves during retirement or save for retirement because they have little or no funds after paying for years of tuition. In other words, this will only work if we become one big commune/Kibbutz. The problem then, is that where will the incentive be to get good jobs and work the long hours needed to bring money into the community. People are not going to have the same incentive to work hard if big chunks of their money goes to some other families' tuition obligations so other parents can sit and learn or take the easy 9-5 job. There has to be considerable amounts of money coming into the community for this plan to work.

Anonymous said...

The question isn't whether there are families who aren't already paying for someone's education. Some of those might have money to spare and some not paying for an education might be barely able to buy food and pay rent. The issue is whether there is excess money in the community not already going toward the basics, if so -- how much, and how do you get people to part with their excess money.

Alot more also needs to be flushed out. Is the proposal for communal funding of schools something like a tax? How is it enforced i.e. - you can't daven in our shuls, send your kids to our schools, use our mikvah, etc. unless you pay the school tax? Or is the proposal to shame people into giving to tuition funds? Have a rabbi order it?
Is the communal "tax" going to be per head? Sliding scale based on income or assets? Will there be representation with the taxation- i.e. payors getting a say on school boards?
What about people who already give a lot of tzedaka, but choose other worthwhile causes?

rosie said...

When parents undertake to financially come to the aid of grown and/or married children, to what extent are they aiding? For example, there is basic help so that the married children can at least afford basics such as rent on a small apartment or there parents who possibly bankroll nice homes and new cars for married children (although I don't know too many personally that do that). Whatever the parents are doing, it does not appear to me that they will do less for their kids in order to give more of it to the day schools. I do think that before grandparents buy luxuries for grandkids, they could consider helping with tuition instead because schools don't like seeing expensively clothed kids who don't pay full tuition.
When I see that there are numerous ads for Pesach resorts so that grandparents can treat the kids to Pesach with all the trimmings, (some ads include the amount of shidduchim made in their facility last year) it is only natural for the day schools to expect more of such generous grandparents.
There is no way to "legislate" this unless these people are followers of rebbeim that clamp down on this type of yomtov spending. Every once in a while there are discussion boards on the ethics of going away for Pesach vs staying home and supporting yeshivas with the money, but everyone is free to do as they please.
No grandparent wants to be told to let the married kids sweat it out so that the grandparent could be a bigger supporter of the yeshiva, although I have seen a desperate fundraiser try that approach.

Thinking said...

SL-

I believe that the community is willing to undertake additional responsibility, however schools must realize that with a "bailout" comes additional responsibility.

Are the schools prepared to undergo 3rd party audits? Take recommendations from auditors seriously? Implement the necessary cuts and changes? Without this commitment, the likelihood of additional community support is unlikely.
Consider the level of auditing that is currently going on with banks and financial institutions who are getting bailout money. Every dollar spent is now being scrutinized.

As a community member and currently paying for my children's education I know that I give any maaser or tzedakah money to yeshivos and institutions that are completely transparent. In fact, I often ask them if there is a specific bill that I can pay directly.
This also why it is easier to get donations for constructions costs then operating costs. While there is the publicity factor you also can see exactly where your money is going.

To Rosie's comment. At least with a Pesach program you know exactly what your getting!

ProfK said...

Even if grandparents come into the equation there is still going to be a problem for yeshivas. One local yeshiva is having money problems because those in the community who previously supported it with donations now have grandchildren in other communities and they are sending their money to help out the schools where their grandchildren go.

There is also this. You are not talking about supporting one yeshiva when you talk about grandparents helping out with tuition or donating to a grandchild's yeshiva. My cousin's 23 grandchildren, in a wide age range and none of the kids living in the same community, attend 17 different schools. One of the schools contacted my cousin to give him a serious talk about how grandparents have to help out their grandchildren and that the school expects more of him. He countered with the question of why the caller's school was more choshuv than the other 16 schools his grandchildren attend. The caller was clearly floored. In calculating how much support could be gotten from grandparents the school never figured into the equation that lots of grandchildren equals lots of schools.

As others have commented here and as I have posted about, to base funding for schools on contributions from a generation that is heading into their "golden" years is highly risky. Retirement is a fact of life, like it or not. Should members of a community contribute to the finances of a local yeshiva? Yes, but which "local" yeshiva--the one down the block or the one their grandchildren are in?

rosie said...

ProfK, you are correct.
If I want to support day schools and yeshivas, my choices are:
1)Local day schools and yeshivas
2)Non-local yeshivas my children have attended or are currently attending,
3)Day schools that my grandchildren attend, in several locations.
4)Israeli yeshiva run by a good friend of the family.
That would be on top of paying tuition as a parent and helping as a grandparent.

tesyaa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rosie said...

I just clicked on the link and read the VIN article. Many of the comments regarded birth control. Personally, I would not want to see any couple deny themselves a child that they truly wanted to love and raise and could give a decent home to. It is problematic though, when children are born to those who don't really want them or who can't really care for them.
I am wondering when more rabbonim will speak openly about the halachas regarding birth control because many posters on VIN, as well as many yidden in general, know very little about the halacha of p'ru v'ur'vu. There are probably loads of misconceptions (no pun intended) and there are also several opinions among rabbonim. If rabbonim are going to speak up about anything, maybe it should be that.

JS said...

There are many reasons couples delay having kids. In fact, I think we'd be better if more couples did delay. A couple will forever be behind on payments, in debt, and not able to save if they marry young, without jobs and without savings and start having kids right away. They are putting a tremendous burden on themselves and the community (when they ask for money in scholarships and from family) and rabbonim should speak about this.

Also, many couples who work hard and have financial resources delay having kids specifically because they want to maintain those financial resources and be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

In terms of communal payment for tuition, good luck. Talk to shuls and schools, they have enough trouble collecting money from people who actually DIRECTLY use their services. You think people will pay up when sent a bill for services they never directly enjoy?

Not to mention the fact that most people already feel the schools are a rip off and overcharging and full of corruption and waste.

Ariella said...

ProfK, that caller in your story about the grandfather was way out of line and would have been no less out of line if all the grandchildren did attend that school. An institution cannot make such demands on people even if they do have grandchildren in the school.
And how about the opposite situation? Should the grandchildren of particularly wealthy people be treated differently? I know someone who took her son to apply to a school where she made sure to mention that his grandparents' names were on the wall in honor of their huge donations. They gave the money years ago when their own child attended the school. But she deliberately dropped the name, thinking it would give her child an advantage in getting in. We certainly live in a meritocracy -- the merit is all in dollar signs.

Dave said...

I rummaged around for demographics. In our school district, roughly 19% of the population is 20 or younger.

Filter out the private schools and the homeschooling, and I'd be comfortable with 15% as a decent estimate for the percentage of the population in the public schools.

I'm not sure that the public school system here would be viable if that percentage of the population went from 15% to 50% (which would simply be an average family size of two adults with two children).

Anonymous said...

I am part of the sliver that is not paying for anyone's education.

Due to different circumstances for each of us, my husband and I are each fortunate (thank g-d) to have our own "breadwinning" job without any residual education debt. We are newly married, though easily a decade older than many frum newlyweds, and we have not yet had kids. We resemble a lot of couples in America - just not ones in the frum world. Most of our peers have children who are already in grade school.

Yeshivah tuition lurks out there in our future, if we choose to go that route (as opposed to home-schooling, aliyah or some other 'alternative'). Saving is a priority for us, but tuition is only one part of that equation.

As someone who currently is NOT paying tuition, but might be someday, there is no communal enforcement of a "tuition tax" that I would be willing to pay. I would sooner stop going to daven at any shul that tried to "excommunicate" or "shame" us for not ponying up. Same for schools. I would risk having my still-unborn children officially blacklisted from attending any yeshivah in the future. And I'd find a mikvah alternative, even if it means dipping in a half-frozen lake.

We are both committed to giving tzedakah, and we wind up supporting our local shuls (yes, that's plural), mikvah, as well as a few organizations meeting the needs of the needy. We've also been extremely blessed to be in a position to give or lend money to friends who have had unfortunate circumstances threaten their livelihoods and ability to support themselves and their families.

Beyond that, we already pay for other children to be educated. It's called our taxes, and they are pretty significant.

There are many reasons I object to a communal tuition tax, but at the core, it boils down to the fact that I would not want to support many of the institutions we're talking about. This blog and other commenters have already pointed out poorly run institutions and lack of transparency. I second that, but I want to take it further.

Essentially, I have serious objections to what's being taught at many of the yeshivahs my "tax" would be supporting. Some of this could be labeled as hashkafic (e.g., my husband & I both work in the professional world. why do I want to give a portion of the salary we earn doing this to people who teach children that we are inferior for this?). Other pet peeves include what is being taught about non-Jews; what is taught about Jews who are not observant; and how children are "taught" world events & history with an authoritative sense of who G-d was punishing. Other problems relate to a general failure to prioritize teaching middot and derech eretz.

Giving tzedakah allows us to "choose" the causes we wish to support and to actually fulfill "aniyei ircha." If we send our kids to yeshivah, we will support those schools we have chosen with our tuition dollars. Any effort to impose a communal obligation on us beyond this would simply drive us out of that community altogether.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that the public school system here would be viable if that percentage of the population went from 15% to 50% (which would simply be an average family size of two adults with two children).

This is only true if you assume that everyone dies as soon as their two children each have two children.

Anonymous said...

SefardiMom - Shift the financial burden of educating our children from a parental one to a communal one.

First of all, it is already a partially communal system in many places. Only some percentage of the budget comes from tuition, the rest comes from contributions from the community. But it will never be complete because the definition of "community" is so contentious.

Ariella - And how about the opposite situation? Should the grandchildren of particularly wealthy people be treated differently? I know someone who took her son to apply to a school where she made sure to mention that his grandparents' names were on the wall in honor of their huge donations. They gave the money years ago when their own child attended the school. But she deliberately dropped the name, thinking it would give her child an advantage in getting in. We certainly live in a meritocracy -- the merit is all in dollar signs.

But this is how the world works, and it's the way the world has always worked. If an institution wants large contributions from wealthy people, they have to treat them extra special, even to the extent of giving their children preference of admission, etc. Colleges and many other organizations do similar things to help attract large contributions. Is this the way the world should work? Obviously not. But I also think that the world should enable all of to properly educate our children without worrying so much about tuition payments, and it just isn't so.

Mark

Anonymous said...

Like Anonymous 2/18 3:34pm poster, I am also part of the sliver that is not paying for anyone's education. Or at least not very much -- I am paying back some student loans, but they are minimal and it's not at all burdensome. I am a frum female in my early 30s who has never been married. There are a lot of us in this camp! Maybe it's a case of "the grass is always greener" but I would gladly change places to be married with kids in a yeshiva.