Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Parent Considering of Public School

Last week I wrote about a problem that is not often addressed but one that I believe deserves our serious attention, the 90% of Jewry that are increasingly losing their Judaism through high assimilation and intermarriage rates. As part of a possible solution I suggested that we open up our religious schools to the wider Jewish community and begin to engage our secular brethren and convince them about the importance of their children learning more about their heritage via a more formal Jewish education.

During the course of the conversation on that lengthy thread the same issue that always comes up when talking about Jewish education dominated the discussion: the high cost of it. Jewish education is vital to the continuity of Judaism. If there is any vital issue that has a greater impact on young Jewish families than financing education, I’d like to know what that is.

This is not a simple problem. We are between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand we want to give our children top notch educations in both Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol. We want the best teachers and good curricula in both. We want good resources. We want enrichment programs. And yet we can’t afford to pay for it. I believe we are at a crisis moment. Parents are being taxed like never before. With tuition figures like $30,000 per child per year, and scholarships being more difficult to obtain than ever – I believe the crisis is unprecedented.

I have always felt that the money was there. Not in the form of tuition but in the form of philanthropy. But we are nowhere near being able to raise that money yet. Meanwhile the people who can afford it least are being asked to sacrifice the most. Some schools have a minimum tuition that some parents cannot afford, and do not forgive those minimum amounts. That is how serious the problem is. We are taxing the poor instead of the rich.

But even those with very good incomes well into 6 figures – struggle mightily. That is not hard to see if you have only 3 children at a total tuition of $90,000 dollars!

The following is a comment by a parent serious about her Judaism. It was made in that comment thread in that post. I believe it demonstrates just how serious this problem is. The credo of any religious school is that no child will be turned away because of finances. That sounds good on paper. But do we really mean it? Here is the comment in its entirety:

This is all about money.

My husband and I are BT's since prior to the births of our children. We are committed - not "Lite" anything. (FWIW, we are a "no-TV" household.) We have, kah, 4 children, all of whom have been in day school from the start (the oldest is in yeshiva). This year the tuition bill is such that we simply cannot pay it all - even though we both work in professional jobs the bill is astronomical, and it just isn't there. The school's attitude is that we should "put it on a credit card"...not an acceptable option nor one for the long term!

For the first time in all of these years, we are truly considering switching our younger children to public school, if only for a year or two, to get a little financial relief. I am shocked as I sit here, even writing such a thing, but truly we see no other way out. For the tuition that we'll save, we can take a third of it and hire a private rebbe to learn with the children every afternoon after school, and we'll still come out about $25-$30k ahead. Undoubtedly the secular education will be superior in our local public school (I have NOT been impressed with the secular education our children have received thus far in the day school system). I also suspect that the daily individual attention from a rebbe will enable them to progress more in limudei kodesh than they would in a classroom environment.

I'm not so excited about them being in a non-religious environment, but I don't believe, especially at the elementary level, that it is the worst thing in the world. Through the years, we've heard the hysteria around public schools, but it sounds just like more of the usual xenophobia which we long ago learned to tune out. Certainly the public schools in our area are very good, and the few frum parents who have had to resort to them (for financial reasons - like ourselves) have had good things to say about how the children did academically and socially.

I'm really just sick over the whole thing. I want my kids in day school - I truly do. If the money's not there, however, it's not there. I do find myself somewhat bitter about the fact that if we were a kollel family or if I were a SAHM, the school would be coughing up the scholarship. Instead we're a full-tuition paying family, and have been each and every year for over a decade, who just got priced out of the market, and nobody seems to care.