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.