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The Moral Costs of Jewish Day School

August 2, 2016 | By: Aryeh Klapper

On top of the rising costs of raising a child in America, Jack Wertheimer estimates that “actively engaged” Jewish families pay a premium of “$50,000 and $110,000 a year just to live a Jewish life.” Behind these financial costs are significant moral ones, Rabbi Aryeh Klapper argues in this 2012 article. High costs of living mean that parents have less time and energy to spend with their children because they have to fill their hours working; they have fewer children; and they dissuade their children from going into intellectual, creative, or service fields because they will need professional salaries to similarly be able to afford the expensive lifestyle. Chief among the financial costs is the price of Jewish day school.

Can anything be done about high day school tuition? Klapper highlights a new tuition model debuting in a small number of Jewish day schools that aims to make tuition affordable to all families, regardless of income.

The system . . . undermines the schools’ Jewish effectiveness. If our children lack Jewish passion, doesn’t that bespeak parental exhaustion? If they are materialistic, isn’t this related to their being told that their career paths are limited because they are poor? When they show signs of being “at risk,” doesn’t this reflect lessened parental involvement? How can children internalize the core Jewish value of human dignity and the spiritual value of financial independence when their schools make them dependent?

Should we therefore undo our commitment—admittedly unprecedented in Jewish history, and inconceivable in a less wealthy community—to broad-based day school education? This is not necessary. We can address the moral issues and, in doing so, the financial issues as well.

The Solomon Schechter School of Greater Boston has proposed a version of a model with great potential. In very simplified form, here is how it might work: Tuition is set as either a fixed percentage of income—say, 15 percent, with small adjustments for the number of children in the school—or a relatively high set amount per student, which high-income families can use if they wish to pay a lower percentage of their income. Families unable to pay even the 15 percent could, as now, apply for financial aid.

Read the whole essay at Jewish Ideas Daily.


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