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Monday, February 16, 2009

Is Jewish Education Inherently More Expensive?

There is a common belief in the Orthodox world that a day school/yeshiva education is by design simply more expensive to offer than the education offered in public schools as the Yeshiva offers a "dual curriculum."

As a person who not only attended public school, but also has been through my own public school's budget at the young age of 15 years old in a concerted effort with a group of friends and parents to save a particular public school program that benefited nearly half of the student body at the time, I think I have at least some idea of the many expenses lining your average school district's budget. And the idea that yeshivot offer MORE (i.e. the dual curriculum) and therefore will be inherently more expensive leaves me shaking my head.

Those who argue that a General + Judaic Education equals more staff apparently have never seen what public schools offer. Obviously public schools are not offering a Judaic Education, but nearly every school district offers a number of (daily) classes and electives beyond the three R's offered by both public schools and yeshiva schools. My own high school offered a very comprehensive vocational program including drafting, auto shop, construction, metal shop, wood shop, typing, and bookkeeping. The school district even employed a vocational career counselor to guide those entering the workforce immediately. Anyone wonder what costs go into running a serious auto shop program?

Electives included various visual art programs including computer aided graphic arts and photography. Academic electives included journalism and creative writing. And there was a jazz band, two levels of concert bands, an orchestra, marching band and auxiliaries, strings, various levels of choir, and drama courses, to say nothing of the student run choral groups and musical ensembles. Are there any yeshiva schools that own an inventory of percussion instruments, oboes, tubas, trombones, and cellos, all of which require repair?

But even if one ignores the cost of running an auto shop or a technology program or a vocational hospitality program (read: vocational programs where students cook all day) because these programs take up less time that they typical yeshiva day, it is impossible to ignore the SPORTS programs which I believe give public schools their own "dual curriculum." Few yeshiva schools that I know offer much more than a once or twice a week PE program and a small handful of sports. My own high school offered 24 sports. Each sport has a junior varsity (jv) program in addition to the varsity program. And larger high schools also offer a freshman teams in a select number of sports. Lest you think the coaches work for free, they don't! Each program coach receives a stipend for the season. I recently was able to access the figures for the school district I live in currently and the stipends were give or take $5000. Coaches alone for a school sports program can easily run a $250,000. How many Rebbes will a quarter million hire?

Anyone want to take a guess about how much it costs to insure a sports program for liability? My recollection of the figure is a bit fuzzy, but it isn't cheap. Add in an athletic director for each high school. Add in busing for games. Add in wages for the bus drivers. Add in sports equipment. Add in maintenance for sports fields. Add in maintenance or rental costs for pools. And, of course, when you are playing football in the stadium or basketball in the gym, the lights need to be on until late into the night.

By this point, I've hopefully made my point that pubic schools aren't offering a "half curriculum" but rather there own "dual curriculum." Now you can add in summer school (read: more payroll costs), ESL programs, comprehensive special education programs some of which include extremely low staff to student ratios, mass busing, some night school programs, some alternative programs, and, oh, day care for some of those alternative programs. At this point it appears that the public schools, which were rumored to only offer a "single curriculum," now seem to be paying for a lot more than staff to teach reading, writing, and math (subjects I'd prefer see get more emphasis).

Sorry, at this point I have a hard time accepting that a Day School/Yeshiva education is inherently more expensive than a regular school program. And we haven't even touched upon discrepancies in salaries and benefit programs, although more modern day schools/yeshivot are trying to catch up here.

Now I do believe that there is plenty of reason to believe that a yeshiva education in its current format IS more expensive and that is based on small school and small classroom size. Simply put it is very expensive to pay for a large staff for a not so large student body. The dual curriculum doesn't appear to be the driving cost as much as the structure. But that is just my opinion.

Add your comments and let me know if you believe day school education is inherently more expensive than its counterpart or if the difference in cost lies in factors having less to do with a dual curriculum and more to do with other factors.


ProfK said...

Both public and private schools offer a full curriculum, differing only in what is being taught in that curriculum. Where the public schools offer more vocational/creative courses, the yeshivas are offering Judaic studies. But it's not a simple difference of curriculum offerings that affect price.
1)public schools are funded by a public tax base. All citizens support the public system, not just those who have children in them. In addition, local and state government can appropriate money for special needs. The federal government also contributes to public schools across the nation. There is always someone, somewhere who can bail out a school with sudden financial needs. This is not the case with yeshivas, which rely heavily on the parents with children in the school. Outside contributors are sought but are not always found.

2)Some services offered by public schools are administered by a district office, not by individual schools in that district. Thus many schools share the cost of certain programs. Development of new programs and changes to existing programs are developed by regional and/or state and/or federal agencies whose costs are not reflected in the local school's budget. There are no yeshiva "districts" with shared services and administrators. Changes or additions to programs are funded by the individual yeshivas.

3)Many of the "extras" in the public school system are, as you mentioned with sports, add ons to teachers already on the payroll. Those who get the coaching stipend are regular classroom teachers. There is utilization of staff across the public curriculum. Teaching across your licence is "officially" frowned upon and is done every day in the public system. This doesn't happen in yeshivas because, for the most part, Rebbis and morot can't teach English subjects, and English teachers can't teach Gemorah and Chumash.

4)There is far reaching access by the public school systems in the US to both commercial and volunteer involvement by outside companies and individuals. Many companies encourage volunteerism on the part of their employees in the public school system. NYC has thousands of volunteers in their literacy programs and their tutoring/mentoring programs. In addition, many of the major computer firms have for decades been involved in donating materials to the public schools or offering them at cost or below cost, nor are these firms the only ones. GM and Ford for many years underwrote all or part of the automotive classes in some public school systems, or donated materials to be used in the programs. Yeshivas do not have this type of volunteerism nor the access to the firms who are donating goods and services.

5)Public schools are part of a system that negotiates contracts for supplies. Because the systems are large they can command better prices on the items they purchase. For the most part, yeshivas purchase supplies individually and don't get the types of discounts available to the public schools.

6)And then there is this. If you want to know what any program in a public school costs, that information is publicly available. State and local budgets and projections are open to view by those who are interested to see them. There can be public debate about programs that appear to be overfunded or about those that appear to be underfunded. There is a legislative process that can be used. Think what you will about teacher's unions, the contracts they negotiate mean that public school systems know precisely how much they will have to pay out in salaries and benefits and can work that into their budgets.

There is no consistency as regards teacher's salaries and benefits in the yeshiva system. We can't even begin to guess what portion of a school's budget goes to educational staffing because every yeshiva pays differently, and not every teacher in the same school is making the same amount of money. Yeshiva budgets, where there are any formally presented, are rarely if ever made public. We can't really say if it costs more to run a yeshiva as compared to a public school because we don't have figures available to compare.

Ezzie said...

I think you touch on it at the end, but the primary difference between public schools and private ones are the mass cost savings a public school has in cost per student. Sure, a slew of coaches, athletic facility upkeep, etc. can cost a lot in total, but the cost per student is relatively small. The same applies to just about every cost a school has outside of teachers, if we assume a PS with relatively small class sizes. That means that while the yeshiva might spend an average of $2 per lunch per student, the PS might be spending $.50; the upkeep per student of the building in a yeshiva might be $250/year while in a public school it might be $50 (obviously totally made up numbers). I think you've discussed cost per student in the past; while it's obvious that some of the fixed costs are lower per student in a public school, I'd estimate that many of the variable costs are as well.

Dave said...

I think the biggest thing is the spreading of the costs across the entire community.

My wife and I are childless by choice, and none of our nieces or nephews live in our school district.

Nonetheless, we vote for all of the school levvies, because we think it is important that a quality education be provided.

rachel in israel said...

ProfK already said what I wanted to say. The only way to measure what is more expensive it to know the cost per student. The problem is that tuition in a jewish school is NOT the mean cost per student. And that number (or the marginal costs, also very important) are guarded like state secrets.

You also have to understand that for a jewish school it is simply impossible to have the economies of scale of publis schools, unless you live in Israel. So even if you can manage to cut costs in a jewish school, you'll always get more per dollar in PS.

I am very interested in looking at the numbers for public schools, profK can you post a link?

Chaim B. said...

I don't know about other districts, but where we live (5 towns) the school district publishes its yearly budget which includes a calculation of how much it costs per pupil for the education they provide. That figure is about what it costs in full tuition dollars at many of the local yeshivos. Yeshivos that offer less charge less. My son in in a H.S. that offers only 4 periods of secular studies a day (English, Math, Science, History) and no sports or other extras. He has one Rebbe for all his learning. The cost is about 1/2 of what some of the other yeshiva H.S. that offer the extras cost. You get what you pay for and for us this works.

SephardiLady said...

Chaim B-You are making the argument that Jewish schooling (without frills) is inherently less expensive.

Unfortunately where we live there is little price difference between the schools with more course offerings and those with less.

ProfK said...

To get the costs per pupil for New York State go to When the site comes up put in a search query for "per-pupil education costs." You can do this for every state by substituting their postal abbreviation for where ny is. You can also do this for some of the major cities. If you want the information for New York City, go to and type in your search request.

ora said...

I agree with Rachel. There's no way to compare unless Jewish schools are revealing their exact income and annual spending (even if not broken down).

Public schools are funded per student through tax money. There's no such thing as a student joining the school without bringing in that money.

Selena said...

In Denver, the average school spending per student is $5,642. My children's school costs about 7500 per student, which is what they charge per student. That is not such a huge difference, considering the longer day (this is elementary school).

The problem with most Jewish schools is that their published full tuition is designed to help subsidize the people who can't pay. They basically roll the scholarship fund into the tuition.

Ezzie said...

Selena - That sums it up *perfectly*.

JS said...

I wonder what would happen if yeshivas charged what the actual amount is supposed to be and then asked those who pay full scholarship to please make a charitable donation for the difference. The school would get the money regardless (assuming those paying full comply, on average) and those paying full could receive a charitable donation deduction on their taxes (which may make some willing to pay more since the govt is essentially subsidizing the donation).

Ezzie said...

JS - It also might encourage some to try harder to make full tuition. Instead of viewing it as unreachable, and therefore less of a priority (worry about everything else first and whatever I can pay I'll pay), people might begin to view it as more of a priority.

Though I still think a set tuition with no breaks except extreme cases is best, and that those who can afford it would gladly support such scholarships far more than the current scheme.

Anonymous said...

Dave said
My wife and I are childless by choice, and none of our nieces or nephews live in our school district.

In the past you haven’t been shy about expressing your opinions on every issue from how people should educate their children to where they should donate their money , I’m therefore sure you wont mind a little reciprocal butting into your affairs, so here it is. Go have a baby. Do it now. Put down the mouse, find your wife and have a baby. Better yet, have two. No cost benefit analysis of expenses, tuition , college, lost wages will calculate against the first smile in your lives, or our lives. Whatever Malthusian inspired books you have on your shelf , sell them on ebay, put the money into a college savings plan and consider this: Between the time you posted your comment and I posted mine, the Jewish people has shrunk by at least 4 souls . If an appeal to your Jewish loyalties fails, consider this; Americas economic and cultural influence inn the world depends on actual Americans being born. If you chortle about the indispensability of American culture, please note I’m not referring to Madison Avenue ideals but rather to Madison’s ideas. The liberal democracy you take for granted wont have a chance against the birth rates of cultures that believe that everyone on Madison Avenue should probably be stoned.If you think Middle Asian birth rates have nothing to do with your Western life, please note the European cities where the most oft-given name to baby boys is now Mohammad. And If you think our economic situation is precarious now, take a look at Japan, or Germany where now, for the first time more old people die than babies are born. What kind of work base do you think it will take to support a retired population living into their 90’s? If what you are worried about is the precious neshamale leaving an unsustainable carbon footprint, well..oh ,please, lets not go there. Please. Go find your wife, kindle a fire in the fireplace, ( use your sophomore year Paul Erlich texts if you are low on wood) and add another link in our chain. Do you really want the chain to end with you?

Dave said...

In the past you haven’t been shy about expressing your opinions on every issue from how people should educate their children to where they should donate their money , I’m therefore sure you wont mind a little reciprocal butting into your affairs, so here it is.

Fair enough. Fair warning though, most of your assumptions aren't actually true.

First, our decision not have children has nothing to do with global warming, carbon footprints, or Malthus. We simply don't want to have children, and are more than happy to instead be part of the lives of our nieces and nephews, and contribute to our community. So, nice assumptions, but no, it has nothing to do with human population.

Second, having children would require medical assistance at this point, if at all possible. As a hint, we are roughly evenly spaced between retirement and college.

Third, even if we did have children, they would not be considered Jewish by most frum yidden. Meine yiddene is nisht kein yiddene.

Fourth, the American culture that I value spreads by the adoption of its ideals and values; whether those clinging to them are born in America or not. I am far less concerned about the birth rate than I am about those occasions when we as a people fall short of our ideals.

Al said...

It's all myths... the Day School is expensive and inefficient because it is designed to be expensive and inefficient. I have seen the inside budget of one school, and watched someone courageously fight to control costs and be overridden.

Public schools have corruption, but it's a relatively constant percentage like all government organizations have.

The Day School is designed with corruption in mind. It is focused on employing Frum Yidden, so they don't have to leave the community for work. The goal is not cost containment, but rather "helping people have work," so the costs escalate.

If you want costs to rise at less than the rate of inflation, you need to do more with less... Figure out how to use technology to control costs. Could you offer more AP classes with distance learning programs, etc.

The system is designed to do what it is doing, and that is sucking every last dollar out of most families. By short changing logical reasoning by having lousy math programs, the Judaic education is largely wrote memorization like it's the 1800s, so it's mostly a waste of time. I don't mean that Judaic education is a waste of time, I mean what passes for Judaic instruction at Day Schools and Yeshivot is mostly a waste of time.

Look at the hysterical reaction to the Ben Gamla school in Florida. There is an obligation of the Jewish community to provide a Torah education to all Jewish [male] students. Fine, there isn't an obligation to give them a full on private environment.

Look at the Catholic school world. Church run schools are "community" subsidized and kept cheap to help parents afford it. Independent Catholic schools compete with the best secular private schools, and don't receive church money.. and most of those Catholic families probably give money, even if they don't fully tithe.

The schools depend on appearing poor, being mismanaged, and controlling the parents by having a majority of the parents being dependent on the scholarship committee and therefore unable to speak up.

The schools aren't failing, they are working as intended. If you think that encouraging children to take a year off before college, a year off after marriage, get married before graduation and have children right away isn't a recipe for financial disaster, you're delusional. But it's not a failure of the system, because that family won't stray from Frumkeit because they are quickly trapped... the wife can't find work outside of the school because while educated professionals can make their own hours (like half weeks in September), entry level people can't. The husband can't earn enough to support the family because he hasn't built up his earnings by the time the first kid hits school when he's 25 or 26, (at 35, if his first kid was born at 29, he probably could), so the kids go to the Yeshiva on scholarship... there is no money for luxuries because it all goes to Yeshiva, so there is no reason NOT to have more kids... and the cycle repeats, AS INTENDED.

JLan said...

" JS said...
I wonder what would happen if yeshivas charged what the actual amount is supposed to be and then asked those who pay full scholarship to please make a charitable donation for the difference. "

That would be at least borderline illegal, since if you're asking for money to specifically make up the difference then the donor is likely receiving services.

conservative scifi said...


Actually, Day Schools really comprise two different services, school and religious instruction. The school part is clearly not tax deductible. However, there is a colorable argument (though rejected by the 9th circuit) that the religous part is deductible.

On the issue of cost per pupil, my local (non-orthodox) day school just raised its tuition 3.5% (the smallest increase in the last 15 years or so). Tuition is still very high, and they spend something like twice per pupil what the local public schools spend (and my local public schools are EXCELLENT).

While costs are higher, I think that the effort to efficiently spend money is lower.

JS said...


Yes, I understand you can't deduct services received. The point was that the school would actually calculate what the tuition SHOULD cost. In other words, they charge $10K based on scholarship rates and amounts. However, if no one received scholarships, tuition could be $7K. They would then charge $7K and anyone who wanted to could contribute more as a donation.

It's really no different than the school charging $7K which is non-negotiable and having a separate scholarship fund to which people can donate to help subsidize the $7K for people who can't afford it.

Would this last idea be more IRS-friendly?

JS said...

And I would add, wouldn't this help alleviate the feeling that you're getting ripped off if you're paying full tuition? Psychologically wouldn't it feel better to pay your tuition and then make a contribution to the scholarship knowing you're helping people? Of course, not to mention the financial benefit as well.

tesyaa said...

JS, you can develop this idea a little further. What if, as "Dave" suggested here or on a previous thread, that an outside charity administer scholarships? For example, I could direct my "excess" to my shul rabbi, who has a bunch of kids in my kids' school. Others may make the same choice. The administrator of the charity could then stipulate that once that rabbi's need is covered, contributions would go to others in need.

Dave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave said...

Some thoughts on the school/charity split:

1. If the price the school charges is the actual price, this aids in transparency, which I think we've all agreed is a good thing.

2. By separating the "charitable" money from the actual tuition, you allow people to actually take a tax deduction on the money they choose to donate. You can't do this when you just raise the cost of the tuition to cover the scholarships the school grants.

3. I would avoid earmarking donations for a given person, although I would think it would be reasonable to earmark them for a given school. This avoids the possibility of direct feelings of obligation in both directions -- would people feel that they couldn't reduce their donations because of the economy if they knew that it would directly take a single specific child out of the school.

4. I like the notion of having all students being "full tuition" at the school level. That way there is nothing internal to the school that should care about "scholarship" or not. The school has been paid, the school has no reason to group the students based on payment.

5. In an ideal world, the school tuition would be "all inclusive". All incidental expenses (ideally including things like school supplies, school uniforms if they are used, books, trips, meals) under one price. That way there aren't additional fees through the year to cause issues.

6. In an ideal world, the charity would be able to raise enough funds to start building a well-diversified endowment, rather than having to depend purely on annual donations.

tesyaa said...

Dave, your points are well thought out, although I think the endowment situation would be extremely unrealistic. I'm sure all parents would welcome the all inclusive pricing. The main reason I suggested the "earmarked" donations is that it might draw in more donations, similar to the way dinner honorees are selected in the hope of maximizing fundraising.