Paying For Jewish Day Schools

From Hirhurim:

OU Plans to Foster Major Savings in Non-Academic Yeshiva Expenses (link):
With the encouragement and participation of a growing number of yeshivot and day schools across North America, the Orthodox Union is quickly moving ahead with a two-pronged approach to respond to the crisis in Jewish education in the current economic environment. The results will be noticeable as early as the school year beginning in September. The two aspects of the plan are as follows:

• To assist the schools in making savings in non-academic areas while at the same time finding new sources of income at a time of reduced philanthropic giving; and
• Providing an alternative to parents who cannot afford to pay $15,000 (average of nursery school through high school tuition) annually for each child, through establishment of schools offering a strong basic education but without a complete complement of programs such are offered by day schools now, and thereby charging about $6,500 per school year in tuition.


The OU has put out a self-serving bit of hogwash trumpeting its vaporous initiative to fix the tuition crisis plaguing the Orthodox community.

In brief, the OU presents a two-prong approach. The first is a cost-cutting and revenue-enhancing strategy for the near term. The cost-cutting elements are saving money by joining together with schools and other groups to obtain insurance as part of a large pool and taking advantage of energy efficient technologies to save more money. The revenue-enhancement comes through hiring grant-writers, encouraging people to use the OU internet toolbar, and setting up ‘Kehilla Funds’ whereby all members of the community donate money towards supporting the schools, even those members who don’t have children.
Let’s look at each aspect of this laughable proposal. Let’s say that the insurance savings are $100k per school, and the energy savings are another $100k – both well above estimate. The cost-cutting measures, estimated high, in a school of 500 students, lead to a savings of $400 per student, assuming all the savings go directly to lowering tuition, and average tuition, per the post, is $15k, you’ve now lowered tuition by a whopping 2.67%. Wow, that’s totally a “radical impact in terms of savings.” What nonsense.

ELI PAROSH COMMENTS TO HIRHURIM: There is, of course, a much more simple solution…
Move to Israel. Tuition and health insurance are much, much cheaper. 170 shekel a month for the top family plan health insurance. 13 shekel for medicines at the pharmacy. My $4,000 tution bill for private school for 4 children is quite funny when compared to its US equivalent and level of learning. In fact, I would venture to say that $30,000 a year here goes further than $200,000 in the U.S. (and that does not even include the ruchnius) Perhaps Hashem is forcing the geulah, and the OU is trying to come up with ways to say a dime with energy efficiency, to prevent it. it looks pretty sad…

NACHUM POSTS: They can’t be serious, can they? Solar power and pay-per-click? I love the OU, but seriously, do they have a team of monkeys in the back room typing this stuff up?

There’s very little out-of-the-box thinking here. I see no mention of the Blaine Amendment. What, is that too political for the OU to touch? Are they too indebted to certain Democrats to bring it up? Enough people screaming about something can actually help.

The one original idea- the new schools- comes with a caveat that broadcasts to us, very clearly, that the OU is very reluctant to cross anyone in the current structure. In an almost panicked tone they assure us that existing yeshivot won’t suffer. I’m sorry, but things are at a pretty pass right now, and if they can’t shake things up, any plans are doomed.

I couldn’t agree more about Israel. I recently met a Israeli cab driver- a profession that would be considered extremely declasse in American Orthodoxy- who has no problem sending his kids to private yeshivot.

In fact, the idea that (let me call up my calculator) even if I had (chas v’shalom) only two kids, I’d be expected to shell out almost $400,000 for their education (*before* even thinking about college, which for some reason is considered a neccessity) terrifies me and reassures me in my decision to make Aliyah.

BEN BAYIT POSTS: An Orthodox Jew making Aliyah solely for the purpose of solving the tuition crises is BAD. An Orthodox Jew should make Aliyah for a variety of reasons involving being mekayem mitzvat yishuv haaretz, educating one’s children in the most full Jewish Torah environment one can live in today, and many many other reasons. (including solving Shmuly Boteach’s lack of readily kosher food and restaurants problem that seems plague American Jewry today according to him….) see Rav Aron Lichtenstein’s essay in the recent Orthodox Forum book for a good listing and discussion of the spiritual considerations to take into account.

If solving tuition is the sole raison detre of Aliyah than when the disposable income to tuition costs possibly goes out of whack in Israel people will leave if they haven’t absorbed all of the other reasons to live in E"Y.

However, it should certainly be considered as a potential "solution". Young pre-college students in Israel should be told that going back to the USA to study for a profession will leave them with significant tuition bills for themselves (possibly involving loans) and then high tuition bills on top of high mortgages for mnay many years to come – even if partially alleviated by new master plans of the OU. and that tuition for professional studies at an Israeli U. is about $15,000 for the entire course of study while at private Israeli colleges it is about $25-30,000. and salaries in such professions is XYZ per year while tution for elementary schools kids is ABC per year while housing costs NOP.

JOSEPH KAPLAN POSTS: It seems to me that one of the major problems of the low cost yeshiva is the caste system that will be created in communities, including the fact that students who had previously attended the current schools on scholarship will now not be given scholarships if they can afford the low tuition school. (Parenthetically, who will subsidize the tuition of those kids whose families can’t afford $6500?) But rather than dealing with this question, the OU passes the buck back to the community rabbinate. They do so, I believe, because they don’t have an answer; if they had one, they’d tell it to us. That doesn’t seem to be a good way to start a new model of a day school — with a problem that will tear apart communities.

MJ POSTS: I have to agree that this sounds like the kind of sophisticated initiative you get when a bunch of OU peons in their mid 20s-30s sit around for brunches over a week and share what they’ve learned from working at the Center for the Jewish Future.

The cost structure of day schools cannot be decided from the top-down by looking at what we have now and figuring out what can be eliminated.

We need to figure out on a community by community basis how much people earn, what percentage of this amount we can expect to spend on schools, what we can realistically raise philanthropically by strategically getting rid of redundant and unnecessary charities, and directing the bulk of contributions to schools. When we have that number, we will then then be in a position to know how much schools should be spending. That’s it.

I spent most of high school in a yeshiva run out of a collection of trailers and a small cinderblock monstrosity. Was it pretty? no. Was it cost effective? apparently. But then the yeshiva HAD to build a new building, HAD to start its own beis medrash and kollel. Are the kids getting a better education now? As far as anyone can tell it’s considerably worse.

I think what we have is akin to "feature creep" in computer software. A program works well, but to sell a new version you need to add unnecessary features. And since these unnecessary features use more resources, you need to buy a new computer, and the cycle continues. The solution is not to decide what features you could probably do without, but how much you can spend, and work from there.

The reduced tuition school is a reasonable idea, but again, this is what all day schools were like 20-30 years ago save for the very few like Ramz/Flatbush day schools which saw themselves as Orthodox prep schools. Again, I went to a very well regarded day school that sent as many graduates to the Ivy league as YU. But we had limited varsity sports, no after school programs. As Chaim yankel suggested, elementary classes up to a certain size were split and rotated between secular and religious studies. This reduced cost model should not be a school of last resort, it should be what most day schools aim for.

What concerns me about the caste system is not that schools will now be segregated along socioeconomic lines (this already occurs to some extent in the greater NY area) but that the lower cost schools will not be able to compete for good teachers. Even if the salaries are commensurate, wouldn’t you rather teach at a school with smaller classes and offers more enrichment programs?

In any event, even a reduced cost school will probably need to raise about 5-6k more per student to cover costs. This plan does not explain whee this money is coming from.

Finally, someone (Avi Chai?) needs to figure out what the cost structure of schools should reasonably be from the point of view of the people paying tuition. Without hard numbers how can we set a reasonable target for the mix of tuition we expect to charge and fundrasing needed supplement it? And with hard numbers you can tell the next principal and assorted other admins you hire: these are the numbers, we cannot under any circumstances pay you more than (insert low six figure salary) without breaking the back of the community.

REJEWVENATOR POSTS: There’s already a caste system in Jewish education, but in addition to being a financial caste system, it’s also an ideological caste system.

The top-notch most expensive schools are the MO academies like SAR and Ramaz. They are also the most left-wing, the most likely to graduate students who go to Ivy-leaguye colleges, and the least likely to generate someone who can do a laining on a daf gemara. The cheapest schools are the Lubav and Hareidi schools. Gradautes know how to learn Torah, but usually don’t go to college, or go to community colelge or CUNY schools (and I love CUNY schools, so let’s not get up in arms here). In the middle are schools like YCQ.

This post is all NY-centric, of course. I’d love to hear how things are different in the rest of the country, but at least here in NY, there has long been a functional education market that is being stressed to the point of collapse across the board.

Looking at the 990 tax returns of Jewish schools, it appears that the going rate for a principal of a large school is about $400k – $500k. If someone’s making double that, I would agree that it’s excessive. However, what should determine what a principal makes is not what a supreme court justice makes, or the VP of the US, or any other such nonsense. People take those jobs b/c they come with incredible power, prestige, and money-making potential down the line. The market for principals determines what you need to pay to get someone good. If you offer $200k, you’re not going to land a great candidate, b/c the great ones can land jobs earning twice that. It doesn’t really matter that $200k is a very nice salary.

CHAIM YANKEL POSTS: The typical Chareidi tuition is similar to the 6500 tuition.

There are many students in the Chareidi system who went on to achieve success as a professional – doctors, lawyers, etc.

I don’t think they would be better off today if their 5th grade history or math teacher had a masters degree.

A cheap education is the only solution.

Hire teachers without masters degrees.

Hebrew in the morning, english in the afternoon – and the reverse for the other class.

No Labs.

No computer rooms. Let them use the computer at home to do their homework and school projects.

The greatest determining factor of the success of our children is not if they get a 20,000 tuition – its whether thaey are emotionally happy, get along with their friends etc.

A peaceful home without the financial stress will contribute more to a childs healthy emotional developement and success than a math teacher with a masters degree.

NACHUM LAMM POSTS: I was thinking the same exact thing when I read what the "stripped down school" entailed: That I went to that school in the 80’s. Why on Earth do you need two teachers in every room?? What do elementary school kids learn on computers they can’t get on their own? What after school activities can there be when you get out at five or six o’clock?

Chaim Yankel, the two class idea was used in Ramaz, for example. It’s not so outlandish, but Jewish studies in the morning is sacrosanct to some, especially after the myth of Volozhin’s shutdown was spread.

Among many other things that occurred to me as I mulled, and discussed, this article was this: Maybe we have a ponzi-like problem here. No intentional wrongdoing, of course, but lots of Orthodox Jews, especially in the New York area, think there are a lot more of us than there really are. So the fifty million plus Catholics in the US can support a school system that the less than 500,000 Orthodox Jews cannot. That’s simply not enough people to make a really viable model, even with so many Jews (supposedly- another fallacy) wealthy and smart and college educated.

Y. Aharon posts: I can’t speak for RJJ HS in the post-war years, but Torah Vodaath was roughly comparable and it definitely treated secular subjects as of secondary importance to talmud study. The difference from what has since become standard practice in Hareidi yeshivot was that secular subjects were taken seriously. An "A" student in Torah Vodaath scored high in the Regents exams and was well equipped to succeed in college. The curriculum and facilites were, however, more limited. Basically, the school insured that Regents requirement were met in the 3.5 hrs. alloted to secular studies in the afternoon. The only optional math course was trigonometry. There was no chemistry, no biology lab, and only a rudimentary physics lab. The tuition was ridiculously low by modern standards. The school was run by people who were imbued with the idea of educating all Jewish boys whether the parents were frum or not, or whether they could pay or not.

It’s unfortunate that Wall Street appears to have set the standard for the currently inflated salaries for the administrators of some day schools. It makes little economic sense for either corporations or day schools.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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