Friday, May 24, 2024

The Roosting Chickens of Charedi Education

The chickens have come home to roost. There is a crisis in Jewish education that seems to mostly be affecting Charedi schools. It was entirely predictable. And if not entirely fixable, surely improvable. The following is from YWN

A financial crisis is rocking the chinuch system, with boys and girls schools – including elementary schools, high schools, mesivtos, and batei medrashim – feeling a serious cash crunch. The money woes are not isolated to one particular town or geographic area, with mosdos chinuch spread throughout the U.S. suffering from far fewer big donors and a growing number of parents who are unable to pay full tuition. 

I was involved in fundraising for many years in 3 different schools. A centrist elementary school a centrist Yeshiva, and a center-right Beis Yaakov (girls high school). Not an easy task in any of those schools. But we almost always managed to somehow meet our budgets. For purposes of this discussion I will focus on my involvement with the elementary school.

The quality of the education provided by this school was always number one. That means hiring the best teachers we could get in both religious and secular studies. It also means adding a variety of important ancillary services for our students. As enrolment grew over the years, it required increasing the administrative staff as well. Our philosophy was that if you want your child to get a good education, you’re going to have to pay for it. Good administrators and good teachers do not come cheap. 

And yet most of the time we somehow managed to meet our annual budget requirements – while at the same time having a very generous tuition assistance policy. How did we do that? And why can’t the schools in question be doing it now?

I cannot advise other schools how to proceed. Every school has its own particular challenges it must overcome. That said, I will describe why Torah U’Mesorah (of which our school is a charter member) always points to it as the model of success that others should follow. To explain why that is, I can only talk about the situation as it was when I was active (about 10 years ago?). Hopefully things have not changed all that much.

First of all, we have a very generous Jewish Federation. Without getting into details they help defray the cost of the financial assistance provided to parents who need it. But that does not fully cover the shortfall. 

That’s where fundraising comes in. We have some very generous donors, many of whom are parents in the school that donate huge amounts of money to the school in a variety of ways. But that is true in Charedi schools as well

Secondly, (and here is where the roosting chickens come in) it is far more likely that parents in a centrist type school will on the average have a higher income than parents in a Charedi school. Which of course means paying a bigger share of their tuition responsibilities.

There are of course many exceptions to that rule. There are plenty of very wealthy Charedi donors some of whom are parents in those schools that shoulder quite a bit of their school’s financial burden. But there are probably a lot more that have not had the benefit of a higher income that a higher education would provide. There are also a lot more Kollel families with a lot of children in those schools than there are in centrist type schools. 

In fact the number of children per family is on average much larger than that of the typical centrist school. The tuition cost per child remains the same. But the amount a large family can afford to pay per child substantially diminishes with each additional child. That of course means a much bigger shortfall for the school. Which multiplies exponentially every generation. 

I’m not, God forbid, telling parents to have less children. Just explaining one of the reasons why there is a financial crisis right now. Which is not going to get better any time soon.

But I do think there is one thing that could be done. I know this will fall on deaf ears - but Charedi schools should  reconsider their negative attitude toward secular studies in general and higher education in particular. It will not entirely solve their problem. But it would surely help if more of their parents would have the higher paying jobs that a higher education generally provides

Now if the Yeshiva world can only find a donor like Ruth Gottesman, who  donated $1 billion to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. A billion dollar endowment to - say - Torah UMesorah would really help a lot of schools. 

Hey - you billionaires out there!  Any takers?