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Sunday, June 21, 2009

What Are Educators Saying About the Tuition Crisis? Part II

Please read part I in the prior post before reading the remainder of Rabbi Teitz's comments that make up part II of my post. This comment of Rabbi Teitz's is from the perspective of staff and my comments are once again in orange. Also an interesting trip into the minds of school administrative staff.

Post 2

My earlier comments were written from a parent's perspective, having heard almost all of what I wrote in conversations with parents over the past year or two.

Personally, I feel many teachers (and I am lucky to count many of them on my staff) are selfless in their devotion to their students. They do not know the meaning of punching a clock. Many are the graduates of JEC that still call their rebbeim and other teachers, at times even late at night, to discuss life's important decisions. There is no way to put a dollar figure to what that is worth.

But that does not mean that parents are not reaching a breaking point. And my post was intended to express that concern, from their point of view. We, as educators, must understand their perspective, because they are the purchasers of the service we provide. The consumers of our service, our students, probably do not stop to consider a cost/benefit analysis, but the purchasers certainly do. And they want to buy our product, but we might be placing it out of their reach.

So much for the parents' perspective.

There is a significant flaw in that outlook. And it is a challenge that extends to the entire spectrum of Jewish living, as well as the greater world around us.

We live in a world of entitlement. Everyone feels they have things coming to them. The sense of sacrifice has mostly been lost. Yes, there are remarkable example of the opposite, but by and large, people today expect to have without having to give up to have it. [Rabbi Teitz is certainly not the first to say that parents are unwilling to sacrifice today. Rav Schachter, RY of REITS, made the same point a few months back. But I just can't agree].

Sleep away camp has gone from being a luxury to a necessity [Guess who marketed such as a necessity? Try this post for an answer]. Pesach at a hotel. Winter vacation at Disney. Summer vacation on top of that, for those who can manage the days away. High-six and seven digit 401Ks and IRAs. A fully vested college fund. [I don't even know how 401ks and college funds can be put in the same sentence as Pesach and Disney vacations. Old age (let's stop calling it retirement) requires money and likely lots of it. Should schools give limited financial aid to those with substaintial retirement accounts? I don't believe they do, so it seems like a non-issue. If anything, we should be begging people to put away what they can while they can because if they don't it will be the next "crisis."]

With all of these absolute, indispensable necessities where is there room for tuition?

People purchase houses and calculate how they can manage their mortgage payments without taking into account that there are tuition payments as well. No one forgets to calculate the bite taxes take out of income in calculating available income for mortgage payments. But tuition, there's always a scholarship for that. [Perhaps those who bought at the top of the market can be blamed for paying too much. But you could also yell at families that did not scrimp and save to buy a home and now have rent that is double the mortgage of a similarly aged counterpart].

In past years, people worked two jobs to pay their educational obligations. Many of us took out loans to get through college. Today's parents won't hear of it. Let the day schools carry me so I can put money away for my child's college. Or, more accurately, let the day school raise tzedaka to pay for my child's college education. [Many people still work more than one job. I'm always amazed just how many members of the klal are trying to sell something on the side. As for college, student debt isn't "free" to the klal either, it is just a matter of timing].

Gone is the feeling that tuition assistance is actually a request for charity. If communal rabbis would only do one thing, it should be to stress that taking a scholarship in a situation where there was not absolute need is tantamount to stealing from tzedaka. [See where the calculation of tuition increase on a 3% tuition raise was made in Part I. This is one reason why tuition assistance is not always viewed as a request for charity. If a $300 per student salary raise translates into a $450 per student tuition increase, than those requesting a discount from $450 aren't asking for "charity" but rather equability].

The biggest difficulty with that message is that there are those who really do need the help and these very words might embarrass them into not asking, which would be criminal. For there is a real need in the community for help in paying tuition. The abusers of the system make it so much more difficult for those in true need. [True].

In the long run, though, we are reaching a tipping point. Three children in day school can, and in some communities does, cost upwards of $50,000. That is, to most families, the single largest expense in their budget. And they are collapsing under the strain. And there is no end in sight. I was at a meeting the other night where the tuition crisis was discussed. One person asked that there be some sort of formula so that he would know that with an income of $150,000 there would be some maximum bill to pay for education. It is a reasonable request. Problem is, it can't be done. Because one family earning $150,000 might be able to put away $25,000 annually into a retirement fund (I have yet to see teachers be able to put that much away regardless of their pay[why in the world not if the pay is high?]), while another family has unreimbursed medical expenses of $15,000. There is no valid basis for comparison based solely on the bottom line. So we can not give that relief.

But we have to talk to the issue. With compassion. With understanding. And, true to our calling, with education. We must find a way to open the eyes of our community to our feelings of entitlement. Without defensiveness. With warmth. The message we have to give is not an easy one to accept. But if we are to change this one aspect of the culture of our community, we must be understanding of the other's perception and concern. We must also step outside ourselves and check what our feelings of entitlement are, because rare is the person who is totally selfless. We all have needs, but are some of our needs as necessary as we might like to think they are.

But even if the lesson will be learned, it will not solve the problem. We will only delay the day when parents will not be able to pay to educate their children. Large communal funds are not the panacea they seem. A well managed endowment with $100 million in it will spin off between $5 million to $7 million annually. How many donors will it take to get to the $100 million? And how many schools will get a piece of that pie? And in the era of Madoff, who will manage the fund, and how do we know it will be properly managed?

So I leave where I left last time.
Just as much worry and just as few answers.

Eliyahu Teitz


Unknown said...

I'm still waiting for more schools to solve that aspect simply: Lower tuition (at cost), no tuition breaks, except extreme circumstances which will involve a 5-or-so-year audit of the family's every financial decision.

Anonymous said...

Because one family earning $150,000 might be able to put away $25,000 annually into a retirement fund (I have yet to see teachers be able to put that much away regardless of their pay[why in the world not if the pay is high?]),
what is the average pay of teachers in the Jewish community (MO) vs. the average baal habayit?
KTJoel Rich

Anonymous said...

Joel, don't forget to factor in tuition discounts that some school employees receive. This is a significant benefit.

And as I remind my friends in the Jewish education field, they have made a lifestyle choice. I have a friend with a PhD in history who would be a welcome staff member in a public school, who has chosen to teach and administer at an elementary yeshiva. She prefers to: be on the work same schedule as her children; have days off erev yom tov, Purim, and chol hamoed, as well as many days off before Pesach, etc, etc; get out of work early on Fridays; work in an environment where she can discuss divrei Torah with her coworkers; work in an environment where there is complete comfort being a religious Jew with no need for explanations. This is a CHOICE, and choosing a job with these pleasant working conditions happens to mean choosing a lower salary.

Shalom, NJ said...

Thank you for these fascinating posts. It's interesting to read of parental 'entitlements' vs. teacher 'entitlements'. The earlier posts mentioned teachers making around $100k-- for jobs with the entire summer off, plus chagim and other normal days off during the year! Inexperienced assistant principals asking for $175k! Is that on top of tuition discounts?

It's true that in our extremely consumer focused society people want far more than they can afford--lavish weddings and bar mitzvahs, vacations, mcmansions, and so on.

It's also true, however, that years ago most kids had to go to public school and cheder, and managed to live good, frum lives.
Now, on top of the yeshiva tuitions its a year or two in Israel, and in the Chareidi world the strong preference for years in kollel. How did they manage in Europe without it? They say that the temptations are worse today, but they force Rabbi Kaminetzki to stop publishing his book which actually described the life of gedolim in Europe, because it humanized them, telling how they actually went to university, or dressed in a modern fashion.

When my oldest kids hit 3rd and 1st grades, I decided that I wasn't very happy with the education that they were receiving (Hebrew or English) and saw that I would always need scholarships for my 4 kids, so I went the public school route, and teach them myself. They know less Hebrew and limudei kodesh than if they were in day school, but they have a very good attitude to learning, the boys wear kippot to public school, and they learn about responsibility and choices. Also, to be honest, I see the day school product in my area, and I'm not particularly impressed on any level.

Anonymous said...

tesyaa said...
Joel, don't forget to factor in tuition discounts that some school employees receive. This is a significant benefit.

And as I remind my friends in the Jewish education field, they have made a lifestyle choice.

Mah inyan shmita etzel har sinai? Of course it's a choice, just as is any profession. Do we want to attract more/better folks, then compensation will definitely be a factor. My point however was simply in response to the question raised concerning teacher savings ability versus the general population.

Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

Cute response. However, of course many teachers have savings ability. Even if the school does not offer a 401(k) plan, presumably a teacher with an employed spouse has savings ability through the spouse, whose after tax earnings are not being eaten up by tuition.

JS said...

Sorry, but the solution is not to complain about how everyone has a sense of entitlement, as if this is the overarching problem to the tuition crisis. Yes, there are a lot of scammers and cheats, but the average person is really struggling and needs the assistance.

However, the schools need to think about how they helped create this atmosphere in which people don't factor in tuition to their life decisions - what degree to get, where to work, how much needs to be earned, how much needs to be saved.

How can you point the finger at klal when you encourage them to marry young, have children early and often, take a few years learning (if not in kollel then in Israel after high school), and that it's OK to subsist on parents' help? Similarly, who do you think is pushing the summer camps and the hotels? And besides, can you blame a family where the parents work like dogs, make more money than 90% of Americans and yet can't make ends meet for feeling they DESERVE a nice vacation or a nice car or house? A family with $250k in income should be expected to live like a family making $75k because of yeshiva tuition?

This is just utter stupidity to blame your customers. Change has to come from within and if you're just going to whine about the problem instead of trying new ideas and new proposals then you'll slowly become obsolete.

I don't think these yeshivas recognize how dependent they are on those making $150k-$250k who are forced to pay full tuition and yet are really struggling. They work their butts off, don't get enough quality time with their kids, don't get to enjoy the fruits of their labor the way other Americans with that salary do (I can't imagine how hard it must be to have coworkers talk about all their vacations and cars and houses, etc and you're worrying about the next credit card bill). If yeshivas lose these people they're done. The "threat" is from these families, not the family asking for assistance. The ones getting scholarships have everything to gain and nothing to lose from the status quo. They don't really suffer when tuition goes up. It's the "wealthy but struggling" who suffer.

Anonymous said...

JS, i hear you, but where are these families going to go? Israel may not have the jobs these people need. Public school will be a real possibility down the road, but right now, the winds of change aren't taking people there yet. I would strongly suggest to young people with kids who aren't in school yet, and who hope to have a large family, to consider public school NOW. It's way easier to start a kid in public school than to switch a kid who is socialized in yeshiva to public school. Also, tuition tends to start small and snowball as prices get higher, kids get bigger and there are more kids to educate. What seems manageable when kids are fairly young becomes unmanageable as they get older.

Lion of Zion said...


i've really warmed up to the public school idea (and not just for economic reasons) over the past year. but it won't happen until we are really forced to do this (e.g., by massive home foreclosures in the ortho world). as long as there is still some credit and/or grandparents willing/able to help out and/or enough suckers to pay full tuition, few people will take the public school leap.

the only other way it can happen is if rabbonim give it an imprimatur, but we know there is zero chance of that on the horizon.

Anonymous said...

LoZ, agree 100%.

Mike S. said...

As someone in the income range mentioned, who has put 3 kids through day school and is putting a 4th now, I don't mind not taking fancy vacations, having new cars and the like. I have never spent Pesach in a hotel, and don't do Disney. I chose to make my kids' education a priority, and don't regret it. I did have one run in with an administrator that I have written about before, and I am
occasionally made to feel like a sucker by some parent who is living higher on the hog than I can, but unashamed to tell me how much aid he is getting from the school, but I can live with that.

However, the business model has reached the breaking point. I (and others in my position) cannot keep handling 10% tuition hikes to keep the budget growing by 4%/year. One suggestion I have is to appoint some parents of more modest means to the boards. I have a feeling schools might find a willingness to tolerate larger class sizes, or use more volunteer help, or share administrators with other schools or take fewer trips or something, if the parents on the board were struggling to pay tuition.

By the way, you can't, on the one hand expect both parents to work full time, and on the other complain that they send the kids to camp.

Anonymous said...

Mike, I will even extend your last sentence to say that for a family with two working parents, it's very difficult to find time to be on a school board, as important a role as that is. We have cut out any activities that take us away from our kids on evenings and weekends. That includes having Shabbos company (except for children). Do I feel bad about not having time to be involved in the community? Yes! Am I willing to give up what little time we have with our kids? No.

JS said...


We don't have kids yet, so take this with a grain of salt, but we've had a lot of discussions about the idea as well. I'm curious if you could elaborate on your situation more or at least why you've been warming up to public school.

Growing up, my parents killed themselves to put us through yeshiva and it helped out family a lot as we became more religious (from traditional to MO). However, money was always tight and only now with my youngest sibling 6 years out of yeshiva are my parents finally able to even think about paying down their mortgage and loans and maybe enjoying themselves a little bit.

With the way tuition has escalated since then, even though my wife and I have good careers, I just don't see how we could afford to put 4 kids (The number we'd like to have) through yeshiva. I think it would be completely manageable as 1-2 kids enter at younger grades, but as they would get older and the younger kids enter yeshiva and the tuition bill is over $70k and will climb higher (if MO high school tuition is $24k now it will likely be $40k+ in 10 or so years), I just don't see how it can happen. I'm not sure if it's worth it for my wife and I to absolutely kill ourselves to make the tuition payments. I'd rather be able to come home early and have dinner with my kids, help them with homework and be their little league coach on Sundays. What would make matters even worse is we wouldn't qualify for a scholarship while the neighbor down the street would and gets to spend the time with his kids I wish I could, but I have to work crazy hours to pay the bills.

gavra@work said...

I don't see any reason why college funds (as opposed to retirement) should go before school tuition. Either put it on loans (if the increased earning power is worth it) or go to a public college (if not).

Dave said...

At this point, you need to save up for public colleges.

JS said...


I can't speak for the chareidi or RW world, but in the MO world nearly everyone goes to college and is expected to work. Furthermore, one needs a high salary to pay what MO yeshivas cost ($12k-$14k for young grades, $22k-$25k for high school).

I left college with a ton of debt in student loans (as did each of my siblings) because my parents just couldn't take out more loans on their house and could only afford to help us minimally in college (yeshiva tuition wiped them out). Furthermore govt loans are limited for college (they are larger for grad school) so these were private loans with higher interest rates.

When students have to take out massive loans for college because their parents had to pay for tuition it just makes matters worse down the line. Now you have a group of kids who are going to marry and have kids and on top of paying for tuition and trying to save for a home and all the normal bills have huge student loan debts to pay off (even more if they pursued grad school after college in hopes of making more money).

It's a bad cycle and yeshivas are being shortsighted by not recognizing this. The same goes with retirement especially when they ask the grandparents to help out on tuition.

Miami Al said...

You hit the nail on the head. The 100k-250k families are the ones who are going to revolt, because they are the ones getting slammed. The inherited wealthy with 2-3 kids aren't feeling the pinch, someone with 8 kids and 60k in income would be poor whether Frum or not.
It's not just watching coworkers with fancy cars and nice vacations, it's easy to justify when your family is a wonderful religious family to prioritize their education.
If you lose a family with the income that could play full tuition but decided not too, you're going to get slaughtered.
We are planning on public school as the kids get out of day care, we have a day care not affiliated with a day school, and we HAVE a nice family income... I just don't see anyway that I can support a reasonable lifestyle for my children (reasonable, new clothes, cars not breaking down, fun weekend excursions on Sunday) and pay for Day School, it's just not doable. The fact that the Day Schools give an inferior education to the public schools in secular studies, and a relatively pathetic religious instruction has me interested by the charter approach.
Having to take state tests and have certified teachers means that the kids will at least be on par with a regular public school... I believe that their Hebrew instruction will be better. Regarding religious instruction, I'm pretty sure for $500/mo/child I can get them 2 hrs/week of age appropriate instruction... My kids may not be as learned as someone going to a top dollar Yeshiva in New York, but they'll be at least as learned as what seems to be religious knowledge in the local Day Schools.

gavra@work said...


I'm not sure what you mean by a "high salary". Is it Lawyer or bust? Whats wrong with (in NYC) CUNY, or similar. This is even more tru when the costs will be less than Tuition, so there will be less "outflow" either way.

Its the "good debt/bad debt" argument. If it will raise your earning power so that its worth doing, its worth taking out loans. If not, then don't do it, whether its on loans or savings.

JS said...

Miami Al,

If there were a charter school, I'd send my (future) kids there in a heartbeat.

My wife and I have good incomes, but we also work 10-12+ hour days nearly every single day and often have to work weekends. It's fine now when we don't have kids, but how is this sustainable when we have children? Continue working like a dog so someone else can raise my kids just so they can attend the local day school?

I second your thought that most local day schools are simply not that great in the Judaic department. My wife and I never learned fluent Hebrew, we didn't even learn enough Hebrew to learn unaided. The day schools never focused on practical halacha and we never even made it through sizable portions of tanach or gemara.

Today, many years out of yeshiva, I enjoy picking up a chumash and reading a commentary, but I'm not a "learner" and find most drashas I hear in shul to be completely boring. Personally, I see Judaism as a lot more than just learning or being able to sit through a shiur. I'd be perfectly happy if my kids ended up the same way: committed to Judaism, marrying a Jewish spouse, and being knowledgeable enough to pick up a chumash/siddur and be able to learn/daven. I'm not, and my kids aren't, going to be the next great poseik so I don't see what more is necessary.

I find it especially ironic when parents pay tens of thousands of dollars to the local day school and their kid gets up to do anim z'mirot and can't pronounce more than 2 words correctly. That's worth $15k a year? Not even to mention the fact that the kid doesn't understand one word of what he's saying. But hey, he came up with a sukkah decoration and a parsha sheet for Friday night.

Orthonomics said...

Gavra-My basic point is that college can either be paid for in past dollars, current dollars, or future dollars.

If tuition does not allow parents to invest in a college fund, they will pay more if they must pay in present dollars. If there are no present dollars and loans are taken out, the cost will be even higher.

I cannot say how much, if anything, parents should be able to put away for college if they are requesting a scholarship. However, my basic point was that the student loans ultimately come back and bite everyone in the bottom: the individual/couple paying the student loan, and the school that now has to fill in with a scholarship for their kids. The only different is timing.

If I was on a scholarship committee, I'd have no choice but to say "pay up." But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't take the time to realize what student loan debt is doing to many young people.

Orthonomics said...

Joel-R. Teitz wrote "regardless of income" he has never seen a family in chinuch save such amounts.

If the earnings are significant, the same way a family with a $150K income saves $25K for retirement is the same way any other family saves for retirement: frugality, frugality, frugality and saving early and often so that past savings spin off passive income.

I'm sure that if we were able to survey the balance sheets are many families in the community, or in American society, we would see that a certain level of income doesn't correlate with an expected level of savings.

gavra@work said...

SL: that is why public college options should be pushed. CUNY in NYC stands at 2300 a semester. Even if the entire degree (4 years) is placed on loans, its still less than standard MO high school tuition FOR ONE YEAR!

That is besides any merit scholarship; and this is already expensive. CUNY was free until the mid 70's.

So as I said, its much easier to pay college than tuition, so there is less need to save for it.

Charlie Hall said...

"Day Schools give an inferior education to the public schools in secular studies"

That is NOT true in my neighborhood, at least as far as the MO schools are concerned.

But the tuition is about double what the City pays per student at Bronx Science. However, there are three prep schools in my neighborhood who are even more expensive than the MO day school.

JS said...

My problem with the MO yeshivas isn't the secular studies, generally. In the top tracks there are excellent teachers and lots of AP classes. The vast majority in the top tracks go to Ivies or other top tier schools.

My issue, ironically, is with the Judaic studies, which in many MO yeshivas is sub-par at best.

Lion of Zion said...


"I'm curious if you could elaborate on your situation more or at least why you've been warming up to public school."

i just don't see the point in having kids and then working so hard to pay tuition that you never see them (or otherwise enjoy the finer things in life, like getting out of a 1-bedroom rental)

also, i'm not very happy with my son's school. i'm sure i'd have complaints with public school as well, but at least those complaints wouldn't be followed with "i can't believe this is what i'm paying for."

"My issue, ironically, is with the Judaic studies, which in many MO yeshivas is sub-par at best."

see questions #1, #8 here:

Anonymous said...

There's so much to disagree with in this piece, but here's the litmus test. Undoubtedly, R' Teitz is not poor. Does he pay full tuition? Even close?

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:35 - There's so much to disagree with in this piece, but here's the litmus test. Undoubtedly, R' Teitz is not poor. Does he pay full tuition? Even close?

I was told last week that some community Rabbeim don't pay any tuition at all. But I have yet to verify if it is indeed a fact. It doesn't make any sense to me, as my Rabbi is paid more than I am, and has a much better set of benefits than I do, and has a similar number of children that I do, and lives in the same community that I do (though in a bigger house than mine). And I pay full tuition.

I've added this to the list of questions on the other thread.


EDT said...

It would have been nice to allow me to respond to your comments. Certain things were misunderstood. Please respond to me offline (if you are on lookjed you can find my email address).

Eliyahu Teitz

Dan said...

Where are the local orthodox rabbis and community "leaders" in all this?

Why does this go on year after year, decade after decade, with no end in sight?

The answer is ....(drumroll, please)


The Yeshiva system is too expensive to be self-supported within the community.

We can quibble over yeshiva budgets, etc., at the end of day it does costs thousands of dollars per student to run a Yeshiva.

I submit, once again as I did about two years ago, there is only one solution, albeit a very difficult obstacle to overcome, get the Government of the United States of America to pay its fair share.

Our children are taught secular studies for a good three-four hours a day.

There is NO VALID REASON why the Government should not be responsible for covering the costs associated with that portion of the school day.

Yes, there's Separation of Church and State, the ACLU, and every other reason under the sun as to why this is difficult.

Nevertheless, this is the ONLY viable solution.

We as a community will never have the pockets deep enough to carry this burden on our own.

We are entitled to a Government funded secular education for our children just like all tax paying families in the US.

Let's get the message out to all NOW!!!

The quicker we start, the closer we get.

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