Got Orthonomics in your Email Box?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Could Public Schools Handle An Enrollment Increase?

There is a large group of people who believe that if the Orthodox community could come together and enroll all of its students in public school for one year that the public schools officials would start to sweat profusely and would start asking for school vouchers as there is no way that they could handle the influx of new students.

Perhaps it is only because I have a bit of passing familiarity with public schools, but I have yet to buy into this theory which I have seen thrown about. My friend MominIsrael sent me this article which hopefully will help put this theory to rest so that we can start to move from the dream mode that with a bit of achdut/achdus we can make vouchers a reality,* and into the reality mode that (at least for now) we are on our own, cannot rely on a miracle, and are going to have to keep funding our schools on our own.

The author of this article was responding to the assertion in a previous letter that objected to the half day public, half day religious model for many reasons including: "Lastly, the absorption of the yeshiva students to the public school would overwhelm the public system in Teaneck and other locations in North Jersey as well in parts of New York City. How does Ms. Citron suggest that the public schools deal with the special requirements imposed by the absorption of a large number of Orthodox students?" The author writes about a time when he had sat down with previous superintendent of the Teaneck schools to talk about some sort of half day school plan that could accommodate the Orthodox student. The superintendent liked the plan and, surprised, the author asked "Won’t it strain your system?”

The answer: “Yes," “That would happen in the short run. But the thought of having all those bright kids and their involved parents is extremely appealing. Those parents care deeply about their kids’ educations, and the entire school system would benefit from their input and involvement.”

I think it is time to put the theory to rest that the public schools would throw vouchers at us if we were to enroll our student in mass in the public school system to make a statement. As it stands now, many public schools facing crowded conditions have implemented alternative schedules. E.g., one school I lived near had two kindergarten schedules a day, early morning start and afternoon start. Somehow, they accommodated these students in older grades too. If the community where to buy into the theory that the public schools would throw funding and/or vouchers to keep our kids should be enroll in mass in public school, I'm afraid the joke would be on us.

Note: This post should not be construed as supportive of a half day public-half day religious model. I am ony looking at the assertion that the public schools wouldn't be able to handle the enrollment increase.

*I happen to support school vouchers, but the widespread public support needed is simply not there at this time, nor do I believe it is likely to materialize in the middle of a recession when public school students are seeing their own programs cut.


Anonymous said...

I'm attaching a URL link to a NY Times article that appeared on Sunday. It appears that there is indeed a concern about influx from private schools that is leading to a nontraditional solution in NYC. However, if you read the article you will see that religious education is NOT part of the plan.

Toni Kamins said...

As a Jew and as an American I deeply resent the idea that anyone would deliberately undermine the concept of public education by forcing the issue of vouchers in such a way.

If you want to send your kids to private school that's your right, but don't screw up the school system that the rest of us use, it has enough problems. The public school system has done well by us for reasons too numerous to mention here.

Julie said...

I'm so glad that tesyaa mentioned the situation in New York. The mayor(!) is supporting the conversion of Catholic Schools into charter schools. Under the proposed plan (which is right now illegal, but they are working to change that) the current students will have guaranteed admission to the charter schools.

I would love for that to happen to some Jewish schools. I really don't care that the schools can't teach religion. A free high school with all Jewish students that is by law allowed to teach Hebrew--that is plenty. I'll learn with my kids on weekends and send them to the best Jewish camp in the world.

ProfK said...

It is not a "them versus us" situation but an "us versus us" one. Parents who utilize the public school system support it through their real estate taxes. Parents who choose a private school are supporting two school systems: their real estate taxes are still going to the public school system with no benefit accruing to their own children, and they are paying private tuition. Yes, it is their choice to opt into a private education, but where else and in what situation are you paying taxes for a service/product that you don't buy? If not vouchers then why not at least a tax credit for tuition paid up to the amount that a state pays to educate a child? If the state pays $11K for one child per year and I pay $20K privately, then why not give me that $11K portion as a tax credit?

Re the Mayor's agreement with the Bishop, it's a financial decision on the part of the diocese. It also serves to keep all the children from the school together in the new school. But one still has to ask: if the diocese had not rented those buildings to the City, and if most of those students could not be accomodated by other Catholic schools nearby, then what would the City have done? Where would they have found room--and money in the budget--to educate another 1000 students in that district? The last thing that the City wants is to have to deal with the influx of students that a closing of private schools across the City would bring it. As the article shows, the closings are not always to "make a point" but because financially the school is no longer viable. That is going to be the case in more schools rather than less given the economic realities. So yes, the City has to think of what it is going to do when more students than expected are on the rolls. Vouchers are one way; tax credits are another.

Toni Kamins said...

FYI Some New York City public high schools used to offer Hebrew as a foreign language along with French, Spanish, Latin, German etc. Mine did and I took Hebrew after I finished taking French. There is nothing illegal about it. Foreign language programs have been gutted over the years along with music, art, and other subjects necessary for a well-rounded education.

Toni Kamins said...


Sorry, but you're argument doesn't hold. I don't have kids at all, yet my taxes help to support the school system. By your logic perhaps I could get a refund. I've never been on welfare, I don't use public hospitals, and these days I rarely use public transportation. We don't pay taxes because they only have a personal benefit; we pay taxes because they advance societal goals.

SephardiLady said...

ProfK-A tax credit of such a sizable amount is unlikely to gain any favor. And what of all the people with no children in the public school system? Do they get a credit too?

A school system needs a tax base that is far larger than its student base to survive. This is one area that public schools have got right that we need to understand as private school parents. Part of the reason our schools are running into trouble is a lack of "tax base" making the burden fall on the shoulders of parents with kids in the system (which is a growing demographic as it is).

Dave said...

Taxes are not users fees.

Anonymous said...

Julie, I don't think you could guarantee ALL Jewish students. Why is this a concern? Do we have yeshivas to teach religious studies, segregate our students, or both?

I know I couldn't teach my kids limudai kodesh on weekends, and while my husband might have the knowledge he might not have the patience or time.

ProfK said...

Toni and SL,
I'm not saying that there are not societal goals that need to be met. But our city, state and federal government already give money to private institutions that are helping them to meet societal goals. Private hospitals abound here and they all get government money. Groups which provide welfare-type services also get government money. The government frequently farms out to private providers for transportation needs in underserved areas. What keeps them from subsidizing the private religious schools is the church/state separation. Since they are very limited by this distinction, then giving the parents some kind of voucher or credit would allow them to get around it. Re the credit, I said up to the amount that it costs the state--and if you "only" got a $5K credit per child wouldn't that help with your tuition woes?

Dave said...

Call me a cynic, but if there were $5k vouchers, I think you'd find that within a year or two the tuitions had gone up by $5k.

More specifically, however, the societal good is not "the school of your choosing" but "access to a public education for all children". All children in the state have that access; some parents choose not to take advantage of it.

Beyond that, in these times, I would be astounded to find any state, anywhere in the country, that says, "we have enough in our budget, let's take on the huge expense of blanket vouchers". The money simply isn't there. Adding vouchers means taking away money from something else.

Toni Kamins said...


Re your church/state argument -- for centuries we lived in countries where there was no separation of church and state and we know how well that worked for us. Separation of church and state is good a good thing -- it has allowed us to thrive. We should fight to keep church and state as separate as possible.

Re your other point -- the government money they get comes from taxes and the services are there for all of us should we need them. And as Dave said, taxes are not user fees.

SephardiLady said...

ProfK-What keeps government from funding private schools is opposition from politicians, the all-powerful teachers unions, and the public.

Even Utah voters voted down vouchers of $500-$3000 in a referendum a bit over a year ago.

What I'm saying in short is that it is time to quit theorizing about the possibility of vouchers and deal with the current fact on the ground: vouchers are a pipe dream.

That doesn't mean we should speak to visiting politicians about education, vouchers, and making education more competitive. It doesn't mean we shouldn't support vouchers in elections,which I support as regardless of whether or not the Orthodox community will benefit. That doesn't mean the Agudah shouldn't continue to lobby for them.

But, we need to think seriously about how to keep our own schools a going concern without a "miracle."

SephardiLady said...

See past blog posts here:

Anonymous said...

As a Jew who grew up in the public school system, I just want to shatter any allusions that there is a magical fund waiting...if an influx of Jews enrolled in public schools, all that would happen would be larger class sizes, less money spent per student, and teachers going crazy. Vouchers? Not unless Hashem himself walked them down. My best friend teaches 2nd grade and has to spend about $400 annually just to outfit her class room, and she is aware that that is on the less generous side.

Toni Kamins said...


What keeps government from funding private schools is that government funds public institutions and private money funds private ones. Do you want our taxes to pay for Catholic schools? Muslim schools? Christian fundamentalist schools?

Dave said...

Charter Schools put the final nail in vouchers. Or at least, that's my opinion.

Charter Schools offer the ability for innovation from outside the school system with public funding, but also with public oversight. I voted for them in Colorado in the 1990s, and while there have been plenty of Charter Schools that have been disappointments, I still think they are worthwhile.

That leaves vouchers to fall into the category "let me pick what school I want and let everyone else pay". And that doesn't play well with voters in good economic times, much less bad ones.

One final thought. My taxes subsidize state colleges. That does not mean that students who qualify for in-state tuition at a state school get the "state subsidy" as a voucher should they choose to go to a private college, nor do they or their parents get a tax rebate. The cases seem to me to be analagous.

SephardiLady said...

Toni-I support a competitive education system. Unlike other Orthodox Jews, the fact that religious groups could receive funding for the secular part of their education does not scare me. I happen to think Catholic schools are providing a tremendous benefit to this country, especially as they provide many non-Catholic inner city children with an affordable private education where they can get away from dangerous and failing public schools. I know plenty of students of this demographic that have benefitted from Catholic schools.

Like I said before, I think vouchers are currently a mute issue and what I'd like to impress upon my own co-religionists is that dreaming of vouchers isn't going to help us in the present, if ever.

ProfK said...

The college example is not quite analogous. We have no mandated college education in any state. So even if a state has a state-provided college system, it is not a requirement to be there or in any other college. To be accurate, completing high school is also not mandated by any state. Students may, depending on the state, sign themselves (or have their parents do so) out of high school between the ages of 14-16.

Dave said...

The fact that, were vouchers allowed for religious schools, taxpayer funds could (and almost certainly would) be used to fund Madrassahs would make them unpalatable politically, even if everything else were to be neutral.

Given that many states have constitutional impediments, and that finances are an impediment everywhere, I just don't see it happening.

SephardiLady said...

Speaking of Muslims, there are public schools that make rather incredible accomodations including rooms for students observing Ramadan with special activities so they don't have to go to the lunch room. These rooms have become so popular that they had become the place to be, even for kids too young to fast. I read an article about this and was rather surprised. But I guess fighting church and state goes to fighting Christianity in school, not minority groups.

Dave said...

That precedent was long since set in public schools. Exams are scheduled around religious holidays for just about everyone, although I believe this was originally done for Jewish students(*).

In addition, students were able to take days off for religious holidays without penalty; something that otherwise isn't done in most schools.

Most Jewish students in public schools observe only one fast day, that being Yom Kippur, and are generally not in school that day anyway. I would expect that if we saw an influx of Jewish students who observed fast days during which they attended school, we'd see similar accomodations.

(*) There was no need to have this for Christian holidays, as the schools were already closed.

Anonymous said...

In fact, many public schools, including NYC, are closed on YK and at least the first day of RH; originally this was because of the student population, and has continued because of the teacher population.

SL, you inadvertently point out that many (observant) Muslims attend public school, unlike all but a negligible percentage of observant Jews.

Larry Lennhoff said...

I got this through my local Agudah based poltical organization today:

From: Yehiel M. Kalish Subject: The Stimulus and you!

A few minutes ago, the Senate passed its version of the proposed economic stimulus legislation. Both House and Senate bills will now go into “conference,” where differences between them will be ironed out.

Our issues remain as follows:

1. K-12 School Modernization Fund (SMF) – The House bill contains $ 16B for school modernization and repair for K-12 schools. But the House did not include private schools within the new program. The Senate eliminated the entire initiative. Our message is that if the conference decides to retain SMF, it should provide for appropriate participation by nonpublic schools. This provision should be explicit.

2. Higher Ed Modernization (HEd) - The House bill provides $3.5B for modernization and repair for Higher Ed institutions, but excludes “schools of divinity” and other religiously-oriented facilities. Again, the Senate bill cuts the entire program. Our message is that if there will be a HEd included in the bill, the exclusion needs to be reworked to at least allow for, explicitly, nonreligious facilities of a school of divinity to be included i.e. cafeteria, dorms, etc.

3. State Stabilization Fund (SSF) - Money is provided in the bill for state program for activities authorized under Title I, IDEA and Perkins (VocEd). Normally these federal programs carry “equity for private school” provisions. But we are told that since this money will be going to help state carry out state programs for activities authorized under Title I, IDEA and Perkins (not for the programs themselves) the state does not have to apply “equity standards.” Our message is that federal money given – even if it administered by states -- for federal purposes should carry the federal string that is otherwise applied to that money: equity.

As noted above, the “conference committee” will soon meet to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions. House conferees will likely push hard for a restoration of education funds cut by the Senate, and they will find a friend in President Obama. Yesterday in Elkhart, Indiana, the President said, “The Senate version cut a lot of these education dollars; I would like to see some of it restored.” And in his news conference last night, he provided a strong defense of funds for school modernization.

Our strategy over the next few days will be to encourage key representatives on Capitol Hill to include equitable services provisions for non-publics in the K-12 modernization and in activities benefitting from SSF, as well as to include certain religious facilities in higher ed modernization.

Honestly, the past few weeks have really been a blur of activity with many Senators and Congressmen/women working hard to help us. Yet, one key Senator mentioned to me the other day that he knows how important this is to us and is willing to help, but it would sure be nice to know if his local constituents cared about this issue. I know for a fact that this Senator’s office was called, but it wasn’t called enough times—the message didn’t penetrate.

Now is the time to start penetrating.

Please remember, Abba has consistently asked that we keep our message positive and respectful. It is more important that we make a Kiddush Hashem in our advocacy than anything else (but it also produces more effective lobbying!). So please, call your lists again, let them know we need their support for one more push, the more people calling the better. Also, I think it would help to log on to the CAPE Legislative Action Center and fill out the form. CAPE is an important organization—in fact, we’re members of CAPE. Therefore, helping them is helping us.

Honestly, this is where we need Hashem’s help to finish the job. We have all done our work. Abba and other dedicated activists have put in insane hours working on this and many of you have really gone above and beyond when it comes to assistance. One more bit of hishtadlus and maybe an extra kapitle Tehillim/Mishna/Daf Gemora or something…and then we wait and see.

I must say, after working close to this situation for almost a month now, if we get the change, it will be a nes nigla worthy of hallel and hoda’ah.

All the best,

LE said...

I don't think the question was stated quite right. It's not whether the public schools could weather a large mass enrollment coming from the private schools. Such an enrollment would make a mess of the public school system They don't have the space, supplies or personnel to handle thousands of more students. The real question is could the yeshivas handle a mass migration away from them or even a partial but large group of parents leaving. I don't think they could. And IA think that the threat, even if only carried out for a few days, would be enough to get some yeshivas at least to become more open and responsive to parents.

Ezzie said...

Just upon reading the first comments and the issue of vouchers... before people come out for or against, why not look at places where they've been implemented?

Milwaukee has had the longest standing voucher system. Since its inception, BOTH private and public schools have gained tremendously. I think many other cities should contemplate looking at why it worked and whether that would apply to them.

SephardiLady said...

LE-I disagree. The situation might not be ideal, but public schools have weathered population explosions before and will just employ one of many things that they have done before from portable classrooms (i.e. trailers) to using non-classroom areas for school, to alternative scheduling, to larger classes.

I agree with you that our schools could easily find themselves in a bind if a large contingent of students were to leave. One wonders what our schools would do if half the parents didn't turn in their enrollments for 2009-10 school year. Would the schools switch to a multi year classroom model? Would they start looking to combine with other small schools? Would co-ed schools agree to work with single gender schools? Would single gender schools work with co-ed schools?

I have no idea what would happen.

Anonymous said...

I don't think some of the readers understand the threat correctly. The people making the threat would never intend for the children to go to public school. It would not affect the yeshivas in the least.

ProfK had a thread in which the comments took the discussion in that direction.

Dave said...

It should be noted that the Milwaukee program excluded all religious schools, and all children who had been previously enrolled in private schools.


Dave said...

Slight correction: "Initially excluded all religious schools."

Ezzie said...

Dave - I'd check out this series, which is from a few years ago. It gives a full report on Milwaukee. Note that since then, many of the negatives they cite were taken care of very well (perhaps the report did a lot in forcing that).

DAG said...

The Public schools know full well that the Yeshiva threat is a bluff.

Ezz, I've been out of the literature for 3 years or so, but the overwhelming majority of research indicated that vouchers do not help.

I lived in Milwaukee, and I am sorry to say the vouchers at the orthodox school there are a joke. It has become a revenue stream for the Yeshiva and NOT a way to save public school children from failing schools. I wonder if there are ANY children at the Yeshiva who would be going to Public School if there were no voucher program (as opposed to being subsidized by scholarship).

Frum people in Milwaukee turn down work toward the end of the year in order to remain voucher eligible.

Anonymous said...

DAG - The Public schools know full well that the Yeshiva threat is a bluff.

I agree that wholesale "threats" are a complete bluff and nobody with any sense believes them. However, change almost always happens at the margins, and I know for a fact that some people will be choosing to send their kids to public school this year for simple economic reasons. And the Yeshivas, even though they truly want to help those people, simply cannot because there is very little money available this year for additional tuition assistance. And with the way things are going, it's only going to get worse by the start of the next school year.

DAG - Frum people in Milwaukee turn down work toward the end of the year in order to remain voucher eligible.

Interesting. I wonder that even if vouchers ever happen (slim to no chance IMO), if income limits for eligibility might not disqualify a very large percentage of MO families.


Dave said...

Just a reminder that New York would require a constitutional ammendment in order to do vouchers (or any other direct funding) that would apply to denominational schools.

Article XI, Section 3 of the state constitution.

DAG said...


Yes, there are Yeshiva students who would go to Public schools, BUT nowhere near the numbers to cause any threat to the system

Ezzie said...

DAG - Completely disagree. The number of students enrolling each year in the choice program continues to rise by a large %. While true that the frum population is gaining more because many are unlikely to have gone public, it's not true for most of the others.

Those students who switched out of public to choice schools showed a huge gain; the big dilemma for local gov't was their finding that those who did so were often the more active families/etc. who were helping out a lot by being in the public schools (their own kids were hurt but their kids' presence helped others). The choice certainly helped the PS kids who took advantage of choice; it just shows the sorry state of public schools in general. But, with less kids in the system, it should be easier to figure out what and how to do so.

DAG said...

Ezz, that’s the popular argument, but (as of when I stopped paying close attention 3 years ago) the research did NOT back that up. Please cite the studies that show these gains.

I would like to point out that the author of several Journal Sentinel articles is a prominent member of the Frum community in Milwaukee who has a very vested interest in the success of the community's voucher school.

DAG said...

I just pulled the abstract to a recent article. I did NOT have the time to read it (and i would like to VERY closely exmaine their use of "newly developed quantile regression approaches ") , but i wanted to cite it here.

When you read this, think if these results warrent tearing apart the Public school system?

Private school vouchers and student achievement: A fixed effects quantile regression evaluation

by Carlos Lamarche, a,

Department of Economics, University of Oklahoma,

Fundamental to the recent debate over school choice is the issue of whether voucher programs actually improve students' academic achievement. Using newly developed quantile regression approaches, this paper investigates the distribution of achievement gains in the first school voucher program implemented in the US. We find that while high-performing students selected for the Milwaukee Parental Choice program had a positive, convexly increasing gain in mathematics, low-performing students had a nearly linear loss. However, the program seems to prevent low-performing students from having an even bigger loss experienced by students in the public schools.

Anonymous said...

DAG - Yes, there are Yeshiva students who would go to Public schools, BUT nowhere near the numbers to cause any threat to the system

Agreed. That's what I mean by "change happens on the margins".

But what if we fast forward 25-35 years (about a generation) and that "margin" has turned into 20-35% (only a percent or so a year could cause that, and in my school, I know that more than one percent are leaving to public school next August). Then we end up with a situation in which a third or more of frum kids are attending public schools. So as a society, we not only have to address the current problem over the next year or two of limited funds, but also the long-term problem of the always increasing expense of Yeshiva day school, and the other issues associated with that (that parents are almost always forced to choose a career that can provide high earnings rather than perhaps something else they would prefer to do, that both parents have to earn wages, that divorce not only dissolves a family, but also potentially reduces further the attendance at these our schools).

The point is that just as very large public school attendance 2 generations ago turned into massive day school attendance today, it can go the opposite way just as well and just as fast.

So the question remains - what do we do about it?


DAG said...


Public school enrollment MAY increase, but we have no reason to assume it will.

Anonymous said...

Maybe out of place here, but I thought I would bring this up.

A suggestion for parents struggling to pay yeshiva tuition.

When my first child started school a number of years ago I sat down with the executive director and had a discussion about what I could afford to pay. My wife and I both work for large non-jewish companies and our complete annual earnings are directly reflected in our W2's. I showed him what I make and offered to pay a percentage of our net income. He was more then happy to accept it. It was not the full tuition, but was a relatively large portion. 5 years later and with more children in yeshivos I am still using this method. It has worked in different yeshivos as needed.

One of the biggest challenges the yeshivos face is the inability to adequately gauge an individuals ability to pay vs their willingness to pay. There are still many out there who believe that vacations, pesach in a hotel and 2 leased cars come before paying full tuition. In addition, many work for themselves or work "off the books" and come up with ridiculius numbers of what they actually really earn.

If you are willing to come forward with a fair solution and are willing to be completely open and honest, yeshivos will act in kind. When the debate centers around what is a fair price to charge you will never find an answer.

SephardiLady said...

Mark is rightfully concerned. I would also add that there is an increased enrollment in public schools. I see it with my own eyes. I can name a minyan in public school that weren't there 3 years ago. In areas where a single grade class is less than the size of a single class in public school whatever flight that there is is even more concerning as Mark points out.

Anonymous-I'm posting your comment up as the next post.

Ezzie said...

I would like to point out that the author of several Journal Sentinel articles is a prominent member of the Frum community in Milwaukee who has a very vested interest in the success of the community's voucher school.

Yes/no. He's never stated his opinion, and all his kids are out of the school for a long time already. I also don't think (and doubt you do) that it ever affected his writing on the subject. We both know him well and he is a fantastic journalist.

Anonymous said...

The Teaneck schools can absorb all the Jewish kids we can trow at them -- and will thank us.

I believe that the Teaneck school system could absorb 20% of the Jewish kids that currently attend yeshivot without much problem -- and that the school district would do anything they can to help the transition from day schools to public schools.

The link above is an article in the NY Times from 2000 form which I copied a few quotes:

"Teaneck's population is now about two-thirds white and a quarter black, with Asian and Hispanic residents constituting the rest. The Jewish community makes up about 40 percent of the population." Note: I estimate (using that the public school population is only 16% white.

"The public school population is 34 percent white, 42 percent black, 13 percent Hispanic and 10 percent Asian, reflecting the fact that many Jews send their children to religious schools and other white families often opt for private schools, a matter of concern for many residents." Again, this problem has only become more pronounced over the last nine years.

"Mr. Copeland, the public school official, said: ''We will not give up trying to accommodate the Jewish community as much as possible. We are offering Hebrew as a language. This year, we offered kosher food in our elementary schools and will extend that to the high school next year.'' "

If an additional 500 students enter the 4,000 student Teaneck district, I am sure that the district would consider it a great outcome because it would help create a more diverse student body. Also, note that the NY Times article stated that Whittier school had 492 students (vs. under 400 today). Thus, adding another 100 students to this school (one of seven in the district) should not create any problems. Englewood's rationale for considering a Hebrew program was to bring more white kids to the public schools.

I encourage all to not only say that you will send your kids to public school. Actually, write an email to John Czeterko, the superintendent of the school district at asking him to facilitate the transition of some of our kids to the public schools by offering Hebrew language classes as an elective subject in grades K-12, and renting classrooms to a local organization for judaic studies instruction after school dismissal at 2:30.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, here's today's NYT update to the charter school story: