I have been blown away by the number of comments that my post "Private School or Bust" engendered. The subject of the post was about the decision to grow the family to a bit beyond replacement level vs. tuition. Most comments that came in were from Bergen County residents who are definitely feeling stretched to their limits and I think the subject veered a bit off topic. I'm going to attempt to share some personal thoughts on the subject of growing a small family just a tab bit, although I realize that I am going to open myself up to plenty of criticism.
Honestly Frum has picked up where the discussion on my blog left off and I've just been sitting back and watching the show. The anger is present and I have no idea how that anger will be translated (or not), but I do hope that it is translated into productive solutions because the feelings are quite destructive in my opinion. For some ideas that have already been declared "impossible", please check out the post on the Flordia co-op school which will be expanding to serve lower elementary school students, the Los Angeles alternative Yeshiva program, Hybrid Schools, and homeschooling. These ideas might not be at all possible for everyone. But individual decisions are where those who want to relieve themselves of a massive burden need to start. I see no signs of major change coming this way for the year 2010/11. I have heard through the grapevine that the schools where I am are planning to raise tuition. If this is true, and I imagine it is because the funding structure ingrained and is what it is, then parents can either write a check or explore other options. If most parents re-register their children in the coming months, the schools will lack the incentive to be the innovators.
Back to my subject. . . .Reading the comments has been revealing and has helped me clarify some of my own thoughts vis a vis my relationship to private schooling. While having the option of sending our already small family to day school is an option that I wish were sustainable over the long haul, I don't believe it is sustainable in the long term. In the short term, I have every intention of making it happen because we are quite pleased with our school, but I have been tracking tuitions in the main games in town and tuition has consistently increased been increased between 5 and 7% every year. Every year I say that there is no way that tuition will increase at the established average, and every year I am sadly proven wrong. Tuition is increased, and my estimate is within a hundred dollars give of take. I have no doubt that in the next 5 years, elementary tuition will be hovering around $20K and that high school tuition will near the $30K mark. Unless the current funding structure is completely overturned and other major changes implemented, I don't see a way to turn back the clock.
So long as it is a nearly foregone conclusion in my mind that I am going to have to seek alternatives to day school education, I don't see it wise to worship at that altar, basing nearly all of our decisions around something that is likely unobtainable in the long term. While some families might be willing to forgo bringing child #2, 3, or 4 into this world because of Yeshiva tuition, I am not going to choose that path. I will never have a super-sized family for a myriad of reasons, but I believe that halacha does not leave family planning decisions completely at our discretion. And, quite frankly, I love being a mother, it is the most fulfilling job I have ever had, it makes us better people, it gives us great purpose, and it enhances our marriage and our spiritual life. If I were to perform a risk analysis, I think I'd rather have that next child and figure out how to best give our kids a Jewish education outside of the system, then to curtail growing our family only to find out that, in the end, day school/yeshiva is still out of reach and we sacrificed our family for something we couldn't have anyway.
Some will say that young families should do everything possible to achieve a day school education. Some will say that they should exhaust their savings and then go into debt. Let's face it, most young people already are maxxed out, so schools are simply going to have to deal with this factor as it hits them harder than ever. This generation is carrying a lot of debt (much in the form of student loan debt) and are paying twice for tuition. I have no intention of draining savings or taking on debt. If that makes me a bad person, so be it. I refuse to live beyond our means. It sets a terrible precedent (if this precedent wasn't set, perhaps we wouldn't even be having tuition discussions today). Compounding interest either works for or against you. Exhausting savings is the quick way to disaster. Going into debt is a bad idea for anyone in the management or financial fields. Living on the edge, quite frankly, endangers integrity.
Others will say that young people should turn to their parents for money. Asking our parents for money isn't an option, even if they surprise us by forking over their checkbooks. It isn't just a matter of being "too proud." Quite frankly, I'm not sure that they have enough for their needs. We need to be prepared for this possibility, not spend all of our money and then some of theirs. If, after 120, we find there is something left over, that is great.
Others will say to ask for a scholarship. While I do believe the scholarship committees do take great precaution with sensitive information, I think it a bad practice to put financial data out there. I am not the bargaining type. I'm not the threatening type. If the price on the free market is reasonable for our family, we will pay up. We have done our hishtadlut to get ahead and if the price is still out of reach, I don't see myself throwing a "tea party" in the school parking lot.
We happily forgo the cell phone, eat rice and beans, shop in a very cost effective way, shop in thrift stores, drive paid for used cars, and don't take vacations for which we can't bunk up at a relative's home. We had a reasonably priced wedding (could have been lower), haven't taken on student debt, and don't send our kids to camp. I work at strange hours and don't pay for daycare or camp. I've organized co-operatives for babysitting, etc. If these "sacrifices" don't pay for day school, then so be it. If day school was priced like the many Christian and Catholic schools available, we would figure it out. But it isn't.
There is always plenty of room to criticize. Some might say that if I hadn't left my job to freelance from home so I could raise my children, I could be a manager and with tens of thousands left over to pay for tuition. Some might say that if my husband would take an even higher paying job (more hours, more risk) that paying for day school for a small family wouldn't be a problem. Some might say that if we stayed in a 2-bedroom apartment that we would be able to meet these massive tuition hikes. Some might say that if we picked up and moved to a less expensive area that we would be perfectly fine. But the job is here and I tend to deal with what is, rather than what if.
And perhaps they are right! But I'm not going to make apologies for the decisions we have made, nor am I going to apologize if Hashem blesses us with one more child. We made our decisions based on what we believe is best for our family and for our children. We have lived frugally. We are paying full tuition for the time being. And we have given tzedakah (in the past) to the schools in our area. If steady, well paying jobs, living below our means, and a frugal lifestyle doesn't leave many tens of thousands of dollars left over for day school tuition, then I believe we will simply seek alternatives.
I don't see any good purpose is making day school the be all and end all of our existence. I don't want to become a bitter person, mad at those who have made less than "optimal" decisions. I don't want to harbor anger at the very people I charge to educate my children. I'm willing to continue to seek more opportunities to increase the cash available for tuition, but I'm not willing to take a risk to family life for the sake of tuition that we might never be able to pay anyways in 5-10 years, another child or not.
Yes, I prefer to go quietly in the night. There are plenty of things that could be explored and I believe I will play a roll in exploring some of those possibilities. But, what I see from "establishment" is a 10 foot list of reasons why everything is impossible and I know that any alternatives will have to come from the grassroots (who will likely eat the blame in the end anyways).
Fire away! (Wow, the post sounds a bit more bitter than I would like it too. That wasn't intentional because as I make peace with the situation we will face, I am releasing a lot of animosity I might have had pent up inside).