At a recent gathering, my friends and I talked about a number of issues confronting our families. The crisis in yeshiva education – principally skyrocketing costs but several other serious problems as well – was a big topic.
We are, between us, parents of nineteen children, b’li ayin hara, having raised them in Brooklyn, the Five Towns, Rockland County, Manhattan and New Jersey. They went through the yeshiva system – girls’ and boys’ elementary, high school, post-high school. We’ve had both positive and negative experiences and are acutely aware of the challenges facing our yeshivos, especially in the area of finances.
Though some of us – through trial and error, moving to other communities, or paying a premium tuition – were fortunate to find yeshivos that successfully met a host of challenges, we know that many other parents have not been as lucky.
During our discussion we speculated as to just how different things would be for families of yeshiva students if finances were not an issue. What if money would suddenly become available, perhaps in the form of grants or vouchers? Would that solve all the problems? After much debate, we came to the realization that money alone is not the answer.
That’s not to say that an influx of money into our yeshivos is not desperately needed. Relieving the tuition burden on parents would offer a tremendous respite to families on tightly stretched budgets. Funds to pay for better qualified teachers, new technology, updated computer and communications systems, and improved facilities are sorely needed.
Thanks to recent efforts, especially in New York, at putting into place some sort of voucher system, there is hope on the horizon. But as great as the needs may be, it’s critical that careful scrutiny be applied to the methods and plans of distributing any funds that will become available.
Our main concern relates to accountability. Our greatest fear is that the subsidies and grants will be handed out to eager and often desperate institutions but that the money will not be used to its maximum benefit.
Who is holding the yeshivos accountable for what they do with the money? If government and private funds are going to be allocated to the schools, then someone needs to mind the store. The schools have been operating on their own for many years, and some have been doing an exemplary job under impossible conditions. There is, however, room for improvement and it is time that the monies allocated for our children’s education come with strings. Lots of strings.
Qualifications: An eighteen-year-old girl straight out of seminary with no experience should not be entrusted by herself to mold the minds of a class of first graders. Nor should a man with s’micha, who is technically a rabbi but who has no formal training in education, and no knowledge of the developmental needs of children, be entrusted by himself to mold the minds of impressionable youngsters.
On the other end of the spectrum, teachers who’ve been in the classroom for 20 years should not automatically be tenured just because they’ve been doing it for so long. What if their methods are outdated? What if they still believe in corporal punishment of students? What if they never really were good teachers?
Schools need to clean house and make sure that all teachers are qualified by today’s standards in both Torah and limudei chachma. The educational, developmental and emotional needs of today’s children go far beyond what the traditional cheder of 50 years ago provided. School administrators need to make sure our educators are capable of educating all types of children according to their individual needs. Someone needs to hold them accountable before checks are handed out.