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.
One could argue that parents who paid full tuition over their tenure as parents in these schools have less of an obligation to donate after they are no longer parents. But for parents who were beneficiaries of an enormous amount of tuition assistance over the years, it’s an entirely different story. We are not talking small numbers. Accumulated tuition reduction for a traditionally large family throughout their tenure as parents could easily be in the tens if not hundreds of thousands. While this is not a loan and there is no legal or halachic obligation to repay this money, there is no doubt that some type of a moral obligation exists. So how should the schools respond and structure the framework for the parents to repay this moral obligation?
I propose the following new approach to how schools should grant and manage tuition reductions:
1. A new clause should be included in the tuition reduction form which parents would agree to in writing accepting a moral commitment to make a sincere and good faith ‘best efforts’ to pay back as much of the accumulated tuition reduction as possible by making the school a top priority recipient of their discretionary charitable donations, now and upon leaving the school.
2. Accumulated tuition reduction would then be tracked throughout the duration of the parents’ tenure at the school.
3. On every Elul thereafter, including after their youngest child graduates, parents would receive a statement reminder quantifying the accumulated tuition assistance they received and the years in which it was received, along with the accumulated donations they have given toward their moral obligation.
The main text of the letter could read something like this:
We enjoyed having you as a family for these past 15 years and we wish you much hatzlachah, etc. Now that Elul is here, we wanted to remind you of our commitment to provide tuition assistance to the many families of our school. In order for us to accomplish this, we ask you to please fulfill the moral obligation you accepted in yourself at the time you received the same tuition assistance.
Total tuition assistance received from September 2012-2015: $32,000.
Total donations from September 2012 – 2015: $1,800.
Some may take issue with this approach, arguing that it would simply be overwhelming for those who take seriously their moral obligation, while for those who do not we would just be wasting our time. Perhaps this might be true for some. But I have become very familiar with many parents over the years and most of them feel a tremendous sense of hakaras hatov to the schools in general. This moral obligation approach would provide the impetus and the framework to enable them to reprioritize the giving of their discretionary charitable funds.
We decry all the spiritual dangers facing our children in this generation. We bemoan those young neshamahs that have sought out the glitz and glitter of the world outside the Olam HaTorah. We say heartfelt Tehillim in their zechus and we look for segulos so that our children should grow to be honest God-fearing Jews and contributing members of society.
Yet perhaps the greatest segula just might be demonstrating hakaras hatov by directing discretionary tzedakah funds back to the day schools and fulfilling this important moral obligation, a true chovos halevavos.
Jake (Yaakov) Goldstein is a CPA and part-time consultant for day schools and non-profit organizations. He is also executive vice president of Torah Institute of Baltimore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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