Many American parents are passionate about providing their children with opportunities to participate in sports and develop as great athletes. A recent article in the Financial Post posed the question “Are your kids’ athletic dreams worth breaking the bank for?” For parents of elite athletes, the costs can be astronomical. Such parents designate “tens of thousands of dollars of their household budget to help their child’s athletic career blossom, a sacrifice that impacts everything from daily spending to retirement.”
Take the case of the National Ski Academy. The mission of this private full-time school is to “provide an environment for student athletes to maximize individual potential through the pursuit of alpine ski racing excellence, academic achievement and personal growth.”
Its director, Jurg Gfeller, says parents have to be committed financially to be part of the program. “If you are here five years, you are spending $150,000 on your kids and they have already spent money before and sometimes it’s probably not finished after [you graduate],” said Gfeller.
The financial sacrifice many of these parents make for their children to excel in athletics is tremendous. Their commitment to sports is so great that they see no choice other than to provide their children with the foundation to become great athletes, regardless of the cost. “You can’t say no” says one parent, Susan Remme, who had three children attend the academy.
Now suppose for a moment that this school suddenly introduced a new scholarship program for qualifying students offering up to a 70% reduction in tuition. The only stipulation for receiving this grant of over $100,000, was that the parents must sign a moral obligation agreement requiring them to put forth a good faith ‘best effort’ in donating back to the school as much as possible while at the school and after their children graduate. The funds received from this moral obligation would enable the school to provide the same assistance to others in need.
What would you say the reaction would be from the parents? Astonishment. Disbelief. Then, when the reality set in that the offer was genuine, can you imagine the level of heartfelt gratitude and endless appreciation? In exchange for well over $100,000 in tuition assistance in training and educating these budding athletes, the only requirement is the expectation for the parents to do their sincere best to allocate as much of their charitable donations as possible to the school. Is there any doubt the parents would feel so indebted to the school that they would go to great lengths to financially demonstrate their appreciation for years thereafter?
Jewish day schools across the country have been providing parents precisely this type of financial aid for decades. Yet how much do parents of day school students who receive this financial help give in donations while at the school and after their youngest child graduates? While to my knowledge there has not been a statistical study done on this subject, based on my experience and informal discussions I have had with other school administrators over the years, in general, it doesn’t seem to be an amount of any significance. Unfortunately this seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
Why is this so? Perhaps it is because our culture is so ingrained with a sense of entitlement that some parents feel tuition assistance is a “right” – along with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Their outlook is that despite the tens of thousands of dollars they received in reduced tuition, they have paid enough in tuition over the years to their school and choose not to allocate to it any further donations.
To be clear, I realize full well that parents have many financial obligations on their plate. Upon the graduation of their youngest child from day school, many parents have new obligations to the high schools and post-high schools their children now attend. In addition, some parents help support their married children and have other critical, sometimes even crushing, financial obligations. I am not proposing taking from these funds and directing these monies to their former day schools.
There are, however, many local, national and international organizations vying for support. Many of them serve good and vital causes. The organizations can be attractive and provide an opportunity to be part of something “exciting” or to really “make a difference.” Some even promise miraculous segulos and yeshuos. But these are discretionary charitable funds. In contrast, there is a moral obligation to make day schools a top-priority recipient.
About the Author: Jake (Yaakov) Goldstein is a CPA and part-time consultant for day schools and non-profit organizations. He is also the executive vice president of Torah Institute of Baltimore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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