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Friday, September 09, 2011

"We Expect"

Thank you to the readers who are sending me tuition links like the subject is going out of style. Not to worry, I will continue with some of the bread and butter with my blog, I've just been busy.

First up on the tuition circuit is this editorial from the new President of the Orthodox Union, Mr. Savitsky: Do We Have an Economic Model that Works?

I'm just left speechless by this near promise on the issue of affordability private Jewish education:

One of the solutions we expect is that the funding of secular education in yeshivos will be paid for by the city, state, or federal government. The money must follow the student, and every student by law has the right to a secular education.

While I appreciate the efforts to secure funding for private school students (despite my own ambivalent stance re: government funding and private education ), I am just aghast the only thinking being presented is:

1. Secure government funding (hasn't happened yet and little positive indication that it will happen)


2. Relocate people to promising communities.

The four criteria per the article are:

-First, a community must possess the basic infrastructure: shuls, mikvahs, a yeshiva environment, access to kosher shopping, an eruv, and kosher restaurants.

- Second, it must have serious opportunities for employment at all levels. Without jobs, we will not be successful in encouraging people to move.

- Third, it must be a warm, caring and cohesive community that offers financial incentives for people to move; it must have affordable housing and education; and the community has to be willing to engage in outreach as unaffiliated Jews become attracted to their synagogues.

- Fourth, there has to be stability in rabbinic, educational, and lay leadership. Why invest in a community if its rabbinic leadership changes every few years?

I've probably played out the commentary on the former. Do readers see positive signals that private school students of the average Orthodox demographic in any state are soon to see funding? The statement is rather bold and unbelievable without any evidence of legislative change.

Regarding the latter, I am very curious which communities have been identified on the list of 10 and I'm looking forward to seeing the short list rolled out. I do believe that young people would be well served exploring less pricey communities and building a life in those communities. There are a few incentive programs of recent memory, one featured on VIN in a smaller Long Island community. Since no incentive packages have a long term track record, building an incentive program is certainly experimental. I'd like to hear more about what the accomplishments and pitfalls have been.


Zach Kessin said...

One of the solutions we expect is that the funding of secular education in yeshivos will be paid for by the city, state, or federal government. The money must follow the student, and every student by law has the right to a secular education.

Um sorry guys this one is a dead horse. There is a free secular education at your local public school. If you opt to not use it that is your problem. The city has no obligation to pay for your yeshiva, as much as you may want it too.

You all sound like a bunch of spoiled kids, But I want it NOW!!!

As for Job prospects if you give your kids a 3rd rate education they will have 3rd rate job prospects.

Anonymous said...

Realistic or not, it is probably the only real solution. It can't be that the Jewish community in aggregate can perpetually fund two school systems (public through taxes and private through tuition). I understand this is the way it works in most other countries - secular education is funded by the government. The most likely avenue for this here is the virtual charter school, already a reality in 26 states in some form. I find it odd that the gov't will pay for a computer to teach my kid math in a yeshiva, but not for a math teacher to do the same, but that seems to be the reality.

Zach Kessin said...

Ok, but no one has addressed the issue of how to get from here to there. To do this the voters or state legislature needs to act. Until that happens its a non starter

Pretty much every effort to get school vouchers has failed.

Miami Al said...

Governor Rick Scott is a HUGE proponent of school choice, far more so than any of the career conservative politicians have been. Even with solid Republican majorities in the legislature, he couldn't get it done... not because they wouldn't pass it, but because the numbers don't work.

Approximately 16%-18% of students attend private schools. If school choice bumped that up to 24% from 16% -- a best case scenario, two thirds of the school choice money would go to people already choosing private schools. That means that 2/3s of the money is "taken out of the public school system." While that might work ideologically for some, the vast majority of Americans are supportive of the public school system, including many conservative Americans.

A non means tested system means that the politics are pulling money out of the public school system that will still serve the poor, to give money to the upper middle class and rich in the private school systems, with the hopes of letting some middle class families join the private school system. It's NOT going to happen.

The numbers don't add up. The marginal cost of educating a non-special needs kid is pretty low, so taking the "average cost" out via voucher means that the school system likely loses money on the kid leaving. Ideologically, I'm okay with that, but the math is pretty clear, this serves to defund the public school system which will become a medicaid-like ghetto.

The lack of leadership towards fixing problems is truly disheartening.

Alexis said...

The virtual school is not a panacea. It's also not so clear that you can just enroll a yeshiva in the K12 programs--I believe a yeshiva in Ohio got in trouble for just that. You'd need to officially homeschool all the secular studies.

And yes--the argument is a failure. The government is offering a free education; Orthodox Jews are choosing not to avail themselves of it.

I also reiterate an argument I've made many times before against vouchers: it is a fallacy that the government will simply give yeshivot money and leave them alone. Money comes with strings. Eventually, accountability over curriculum will come, not to mention scrutiny over funding discriminatory schools.

Miami Al said...

He writes,

"I almost questioned the objective of our program, or even any kiruv program, if our product was only affordable to the top five percent of American wage earners."

But nonetheless, you don't question the decision of your leadership to crap all over the affordable alternative, Hebrew language charter schools with a Kosher Kitchen and religious sensitivities, with an after school Judaic program.

"But that's not a Day School" you scream, no, it's not, but it's an affordable option that gives much of the education.

He also wrote, "I was heartbroken. Although we had achieved the goal of instilling the spirit of Judaism into these wonderful girls, because of finances they would not be able to receive a Torah education. I wondered how many other families were in the same situation."

No, finances did NOT prevent the girls from receiving a Torah Education. As Ben Gamla/JUMP has shown, if the language is covered, one can provide a reasonably priced Torah Education, it might not match the best Yeshiva education in town, but it's a far better education than most Jews receive and a far better education than most Orthodox Jews received one generation (outside NY) or two generations (inside NY) go.

The decision by the OU and similar organizations to actively fight efforts at non-Day School Torah education is denying a Torah education to these girls. Similar efforts in South Florida, including blocking the Ben Gamla Hallandale Beach school (an area with a thriving Chabad and Israeli population, including a few Kosher restaurants on and off) have denied many people a Torah education.

There is a decision by those in Orthodox leadership to block/fight alternative Torah education models because they are inexpensive competition for their Cadillac education systems. They are denying people a Torah education for the sole purpose of keeping demand up for their more expensive option.

Miami Al said...

The incentive approach is a terrible one. It makes perfect sense to an individual community, helps it get more members that will hopefully contribute something in the future, but it's a zero-sum game. It's rigged to recruit the "right kind of family" for whatever the controller of the purse strings decides, pretty much guaranteed that in time, it'll be recruiting families on the rightward 20% of the community to pull it right-ward, or does anyone think that in time, a socially Orthodox family that mostly keeps Shabbat and eats Dairy out will get the incentives if they prove successful?

The proponents hope that it puts them on the map and draws attention to their friends, and it might to that. But what it's also doing is encouraging people that can't afford that community to do so, which is counter productive. Americans have a tendency to "stretch" for housing, we don't need to double down on that.

Far more helpful would be an effort by the OU to get member synagogues to raise money to setup Shuls in affordable towns near established Jewish life, so more people could afford to be Frum and less Frum cash flow would flow out to mortgage interest and taxes for towns that some residents can't afford.

sima said...

I also reiterate an argument I've made many times before against vouchers: it is a fallacy that the government will simply give yeshivot money and leave them alone. Money comes with strings. Eventually, accountability over curriculum will come, not to mention scrutiny over funding discriminatory schools.

I agree. Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch felt the same way, and it's not inconceivable that once we're taking their money, we'll have to dance to their tune in ways that are inconsistent with how we want our children educated. And then what have we gained?

JS said...

I don't know which is more frustrating, the intolerable status quo or the repetitive calls for the same non-solutions from the leadership. I've said it before, but if you're sitting around waiting for these people to solve the "tuition crisis" you're going to be waiting a long, long time. Find a solution that works for your family even if it isn't accepted and run with it. These people are leading the community off a cliff.

The voucher idea is a complete non-starter. There's minimal actual legislative support. It's a Republican/Conservative rallying cry, but even they don't have the guts to do it. And, with good reason since it would bankrupt the existing public school systems. The Orthodox may not care since they don't use these schools, but they should care - good schools are the bedrock of a community. If anything at all should ever pass it will be a small amount of money directed at low-income families. It's not going to help the family pulling in over 6 figures that is suffering from a 45k tuition burden.

Besides, think about what it will do to your town. Imagine a suburb where the town is 1/3 Orthodox. 1/3 of the town's public school budget is being paid by people that don't use the schools (plus whatever percentage of other families using private schooling). It doesn't take a genius to figure out what happens if you now give back property tax dollars to those families who are already not using the public schools. Everyone's taxes go up to make up the shortfall and the public schools are forced to make serious cuts (not to mention a lot of "heated discussion" between public school and private school parents at town hall meetings).

As for this incentive nonsense, first of all the criteria force the target community to be established already. If people wanted to move there, they would already be doing it. They don't want to move because of social pressures and a desire to be near family and existing jobs. Throwing $10k someone's way towards buying a house or a free tuition for one year doesn't draw anyone other than those who would move there anyways. Or, worse, it attracts people who are financially desperate and will become new scholarship lifers and a drain on resources.

What really makes no sense is that I haven't heard anyone say that life "out of town" is so much more affordable. The tuitions seem to be uniformly expensive wherever you go. Housing costs may be lower, but incomes are also lower. I imagine it's a bit of a wash, or at least not enough of a boon to make tuition affordable.

Just look at the discussion on the Chump blog - people won't move 10-15 minutes away to have more affordable housing even though they could use the same schools. What "section" of Teaneck you're in is HIGHLY significant. You think people of this mindset are moving halfway across the country? They won't even move to the town over. Or, look at the Elizabeth and Hillside community - houses are roughly 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of Teaneck and tuition is about 1/4 less, but you don't see that being a major driving force to that community. Sure, people are moving there, but it's not being pushed as a real solution or even a stop-gap solution.

The leadership wants the status quo since they directly benefit from it. Sure, most are not as cynical as I'm making it sound and truly believe this is the best and only way to educate our youth, but regardless, by forcefully shutting down every alternative they're ultimately hurting Orthodoxy.

What good is the yeshiva system if it creates parents deeply resentful of the social requirements of Orthodoxy and brings up a generation of children exposed to that resentment and/or can't afford it for their own kids?

JS said...

Also, am I the only one reading this as "We want to identify communities outside the tri-state area that are wonderful and then turn them into another tri-state community"? Newsflash: what makes these communities so nice is that they aren't overrun with NYC-type Jews. It reminds me a bit of when a poor country gets the Olympics, they revel in the publicity and dream of newfound prosperity. In the beginning there is massive investment to get the area up to par and everyone celebrates the big event. But, in the end, the investments dwindle, crime and poverty return, the massive stadiums crumble and fall into disrepair, and everyone forgets about the town except in trivia books.

JS said...

It's also pretty ironic that the OU is investing time and money into identifying 4 target communities (just identifying them all will take a few years according to the article) instead of simply helping people make aliyah and move to our homeland where tuition is free.

So, the OU will spend likely many, many tens of thousands of dollars identifying communities, tens of thousands more making sure they are viable, and then even more tens of thousands setting up incentives for people to move there - a process sure to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and several years that isn't even remotely likely to succeed or provide any real benefit - instead of just subsidizing people's moving to Israel like Nefesh B'Nefesh does.

Could it, maybe, just maybe, have to do with the fact that OU benefits from grabbing another community under its auspices, but gains nothing if people make aliyah?

Just proves what I've thought all along that the calls for aliyah and Zionism in the Modern Orthodox movement are just a sideshow. The real deal is right here in America, specifically the tri-state area (where OU happens to be headquartered). This is all about organizational self-interest and not Judaism or even Orthodoxy.

Avi said...

Background: My wife and I both grew up outside the NY area and never expected to end up in Teaneck. We spent the early years of our marriage looking for where we would *really* live. We're still here, 15 years later.

Communities outside the NY area typically have equivalent tuition prices, dramatically lower cost of living for housing, taxes, and services, and commensurately lower salaries. The economics overall can be better, or they can actually be worse. It depends on what field you're in. MO Jews tend to concentrate in white collar service industries, which are overrepresented in NYC (and to a lesser extent in other major metros). Sure, Houston's economy is exploding, but not for actuaries or bankruptcy lawyers or tech analysts.

MO communities outside the biggest ones also impose social costs, some of which are material (travel costs for chaggim, loss of access to family for babysitting or free food).

But JS has a point, too. The current generation of MO wants to cluster in the highest profile, most services-rich areas within the major metros, whether they can afford to or not. After all, once you buy the house, you can go on scholarship. But don't count on our leadership to preach personal responsibility - they're trying to pass the bill to the states and towns in the form of vouchers.

Anonymous said...

The OU's new proposal is kind of like the POTUS's: nothing new to add to the discussion, but proposed in a flashier way.

I live in a town that offered an incentive program, and it was successful. But the town is in the tri-state area and was not offered as an "affordability scenario." The program was used to draw in young couples to an aging community. It attracted young professionals who have gained traction in their careers, but due to their youth, did not necessarily have a whole lot in the bank. Eventhough it is a community in the tri-state area, it actually attracted very down to earth young people (The trust fund babies are less worried about down payments), many of them from outside NY. The down to earth feel is refreshing enough that even though the program expired, young people continue to move in-> either brought in by friends or the publicity that the community gained.
I dont think that the "incentives" can be successfully used for the purposes expressed in the article.

abba's rantings said...


"The decision by the OU and similar organizations to actively fight efforts at non-Day School Torah education"

the OU does not actively fight non-day school alternatives. the OU may not support them and individuals associated with the OU may be critical of them, but the OU does not have a mission to actively fight them


the OU should not support aliyah as a financial panacea because it isn't one.

AztecQueen2000 said...

If the state comes up with secular ed. funding, they will also "expect" that the school use only certified teachers hired under the provisions of the EEOC, that a state-sponsored curriculum be taught, that a certain number of hours be spent of secular studies, that students not be turned away over minor hashkafic differences, that all schools run according to code (current on worker's comp, liability, and unemployment, pay secular teachers prevailing wages on time, and ensure that all facilities meet current building codes).
We can't have it both ways. If the school is truly private, it avoids both state regs and state funds. If they want state money, the state buys itself a lot of oversight.

Miami Al said...


"that students not be turned away over minor hashkafic differences"

Not sure why. You can't discriminate regarding a protected class. Jews as a whole are, Orthodox Jews probably are, a specific view/practice is probably seen as behavior that you can discriminate on.

That said, how will the parents respond to:

Non Jewish teacher teaching evolution without "sensitivity?" Sex ed?

One area I would be concerned with: tuition discounts for staff are a BIG part of Yeshiva compensation, but they are defacto discriminatory since you are defacto paying Jewish staff more than non-Jewish staff, since the latter can't enroll their children.

Depending on state blue laws, not sure how Sunday classes would work, being open on State holidays (like Christmas) without paying overtime, etc.

How are the Yeshiva parents going to respond when, to take an extreme, one of the female teachers explains that she is out for a Wiccan holiday and about her being on "family leave" for her wife's delivery with a sperm donor?

Anti-discrimination plus state recognized same sex marriages in NY would seem to run counter to the "need a fully frum environment" argument, no?

rosie said...

I would think that non-Jewish staff in yeshivas would not need to divulge anything about their personal life in order to teach in the school. Our children once had a non-Jewish bus driver who was gay. He died of AIDs but before he died, the menahel of the school acted as his clergy and visited him regularly at the hospital because he was a human being who could benefit for pastoral counseling and really had no one else. The older children understood that although we did not approve of the bus driver's lifestyle, he was entitled to the same comfort that all other sick people were. They could see that we must suspend judgement to do what is right for our fellow man.
The school can probably tweak some of the curriculum and still be within the law as to what has to be taught in science and literature.
Personally, I like the fact that Jews are being urged to more somewhere cheaper and have recently spoken to people who left Crown Heights to move to Marine Park where the homes are cheaper.

Miami Al said...


But in New York, homosexuals are a protected class and their spouses are legally recognized. Their mentioning their spouse is no different from a heterosexual teacher mentioning their spouse, that's the world that those of us not is religious institutions live in.

rosie said...

Miami al,
I am not sure in what context a teacher will speak of his or her spouse during the course of teaching children and the adults are not naive about homosexuality. At some point, most children growing up in NY will come in contact with homosexuals and will come to understand what it is. A non-frum Jewish teacher who is teaching secular subjects might also mention that she breaks Shabbos but we can ask teachers to stick to the subject and leave their personal lives out of it. I am not sure that most public schools would like the teacher to divert from the curriculum to discuss anything not pertinent. A teacher might be a Democrat but I think there is a problem if the teacher tells the kids how to think in terms of politics. Again, it only becomes an issue is someone takes issue with it. I am not sure if a public school teacher can wear clothing or pins with political slogans on them.

Anonymous said...

Dave said...

It's worth noting that the voucher system just passed in Indiana requires admission to oversubscribed schools be done by lottery. Not Hashkafa. (And in fact, if non-Jewish students apply, the schools cannot reject them).

Dave said...


And if a teacher shows up with a new last name and a wedding ring, you don't think the subject will come up, even in passing?

AztecQueen2000 said...

Miami Al,
I'm talking about MINOR hashkafic differences. The things that can keep students out of most schools today (varying Hasidic sects, whether the family has a TV, whether Mom covers her hair, whether Dad wears a velvet yarmulke vs. a kipa sruga) would probably be deemed unimportant by the members of the DOE who would be supervising voucher distribution. After all, to the untrained eye, we're all Orthodox, so what difference does it make?

rosie said...

Dave, the teacher can just answer that she got married. If her partner is delivering, she can say that she is adopting a baby which is the truth. And if the students do find out what kind of life she lives, is it any worse than any of the other non-frum things that non-frum people do. According to the Torah, lesbianism is a lewd act but not on the same level of avaira as male homosexuality. Apparently it may not even be as big as an aveira as a woman being promiscuous with men.
Whatever it is, these things are not new and frum schools have plenty of non-frum and non-Jewish teachers and this should not be a big issue.

Miami Al said...


Your comment about adoption is probably incorrect. My understanding of common law is that when a married woman delivers a child, the husband is presumed to be the father, and that establishes paternity. I simply don't see why her spouse's lack of male genitalia should play any role in that presumption. After all, nobody asked me if I was sterile when my wife gave birth, they filled out my name and that was that.

Pretty certain that it's NOT adoption in the case of a married couple, but perhaps that case law is not yet established.

Point being, if you are discriminating against people for being gay in New York, you are in a world of hurt, especially if you expect to treat homosexual spouses differently.

OTOH, in Florida, you can put a sign on your store that says "we don't serve queers" and be perfectly within your legal rights, though clearly establishing bad taste.

Dave said...

Who says the teacher with the ring and the new last name is female?

Miami Al said...


But your language about "she can just say" is your implicit discrimination. You do not approve of her life, therefore want her to hide it from the students.

However, her lifestyle is considered perfectly acceptable under the law. As a private individual, you are free to disapprove. As a employer in a public business, you lack that right. There is a SLIGHT carve out for religious institutions where the role is classified as religious in nature... for a Gemara teacher, absolutely, for a science teacher, it's more borderline, for a science teacher where you are taking state money via voucher for science, how on earth can you argue a religious obligation there?

rosie said...

If a teacher is Jewish but is not frum and is planning to spend Yom Kippur with his non-Jewish girlfriend eating pork, does he have to inform the class if they ask him if he plans to fast and pray? Would there be some expectation of sensitivity on his part that his students are not entitled to the details of his private life? Would this sensitivity be any less expected of a gay teacher?

rosie said...

I would also say that gay teachers should understand that in parochial schools, the subject of homosexuality is not welcome and if they take a job like that, they would have to understand that the school does not feel the need to promote tolerance.
A non-Muslim who takes a job in the Dearbornistan, MI public schools must obviously hide any negative feelings that he has towards Muslims.

Dave said...

Your analogy is flawed. The closer one would be "a Jewish teacher who takes a job in Dearborn, MI public schools must not wear a yamulke or discuss why he is not present on Jewish holidays".

And that would be illegal.

rosie said...

So even if the gay teacher would be free to mention her gay marriage, would she be entitled and go a step further and promote that behavior as part and parcel of normative Jewish living?
That gays exist is something that all children understand eventually, in today's society. What I think would really rankle most people though is if she used her position as a teacher to advance the gay position that homosexuality is just one version of normal family life. Where in the algebra book is the chapter on gay family life?

Miami Al said...


Normative Jewish living? No.

Legal and protected behavior in the State of New York? Absolutely.

That it is "just one version of normal family life" is not the "gay position," it's the legal position of the State of New York.

If she interrupted algebra to give a diatribe on it, she isn't doing her job. However, if she had a picture of her wife on her desk, wore a ring, and otherwise acted like a normal person, mentioning her wife casually and normally, you are discriminating against her on the basis of her sexual orientation.

If the corrected version of your analogy, the Jewish teacher working in Dearborn, MI with a heavily Muslim class can't tell them that Mohammad is a fraud, that Judaism is the only true religion, or any other sort of anti-social behavior. However, he'd be free to wear a Kippa, talk about his trip to Israel over the summer, etc., in other words, act like a normal human being, that happened to be of a different ethnic background that many of the students.

rosie said...

Then what is to prevent private schools that get no government funding from avoiding the hiring of gay teachers? If it is illegal to avoid hiring gays, why would it matter what kind of employer it is?
OTOH, a lesbian who is working in a job that the sexual orientation would make some people uncomfortable, such as an all girl's school where a woman who viewed the girls just as a man would, would they be any more obligated legally to hire a lesbian than they would to hire a man to teach a subject like gym?

Dave said...


Religious organizations get an exemption. Non-religious schools may or may not be able to discriminate based on sexual orientation (it depends on the state, IIRC).

So in this case, it would be "government money overrides your religious exemption".

Anonymous said...

I agree with Miami Al's earliest comments here- that the OU, and other orthodox Rabbis are making sure that those who attend public school , have no available group after school Jewish education( yes, you can hire a Tutor on your own). I have heard of one area, where there is a Hebrew charter school and no one was willing to step in to fill the after school void. One group was going to, but obviously politics, or as a friend put it, the "Jewish Mafia"- scorned this attempt, so this original group backed out. Now Chabad has stepped in to fill the void.
With the internet, maybe frum jews who send to public school or charter school will unite and realize that they are not alone. We sent to public school for several years and there was no after school program for our child. We did not hire a tutor. If no one wants to provide any after school group program, we were going to send to public school anyway. And we told people that our child was in public school because we felt no shame! We feel we rebelled against the all or nothing Jewish day school system. We have never regretted it- and we hope we see many more rebels in the future. Maybe then, we will push the Rabbis in the communities to offer an after school program to meet the needs of their constituents.

Tobey Finkelstein said...

Here is a state that is allowing an alternate path to funding private schools: Georgia.

There are alternatives. If there were more organization, there is actually fistfuls of corporate money out there available to private schools as well (% of purchase programs through Target, Giant/Stop & Shop, & Office Depot,, etc.). There is student-based fundraising that could be done and kept in the school, instead of being directed at multiple charities throughout the year.

There are ways to set up endowments (Generations/Avichai). There are ways to share admin expenses across related schools, like curriculum development and consultants. is a step in the right direction toward financial transparency. If you look at the number of schools that actually filled out their expenses, you'll see that it doesn't look like the schools themselves are prepared for such an empirical approach to addressing funding needs.

...And why isn't the portion of tuition paid that goes toward covering other students' tuition called what it is: a donation, and should therefore be tax-deductible? That could be easily figured out, no? Total $ expense / total # of enrollees. Any money in excess of that $ amount charged as tuition should be tax-deductible as a contribution toward the scholarship fund.