One thing that I consistently encounter when discussing affordable Jewish education is frustration and blame. The frustration comes from parents and others intimately involved in Jewish education. They feel that tuition is too high and that it is causing innumerable problems in our community. The blame is placed squarely on the doorsteps of our Jewish day schools, perceived to be the source of all the escalating cost issues.
While Jewish day schools are part of the puzzle of how to reduce tuition, the disproportionate blame this group receives is unfair. Most schools will have some element, lay or professional, that recognizes that tuition is too high. Continuing to cast blame on and airing frustration at this group doesn’t fix the problem. Obviously there are some exceptions but, by and large, this group isn’t surprised to learn that there is a tuition crisis – and nearly all are doing something to attempt to tackle the problem. They receive tuition assistance requests, they do the fund-raising, they make the hard decisions to fire staff or cut programs they can’t afford, and they understand that there is a crisis.
But there is another group that doesn’t get it.
Your political legislators don’t understand that there is a tuition crisis. This is because you or your community hasn’t bothered to express this with the same level of frustration or blame that your child’s principal receives daily. Principals perk up when I tell them about some innovative funding source or something new that we are doing. They want to help, and the potential for tuition reduction interests them. Politicians don’t perk up when my colleagues or I talk to them about the problem.
When a politician hears about the high costs of Jewish day school education, they often remark about the high cost in general of private school education. They think that we are choosing Jewish day school for the same reason that many parents choose preparatory school, namely because it is a superior education to one received through the public school system. They don’t understand that this isn’t the reason. They don’t understand the higher costs of a dual curriculum. They also don’t understand that public school isn’t a viable option for our community.
If they don’t understand these basics, they certainly don’t understand that tuition is breaking the financial backs of so many members of our community. The only way they would comprehend that is if the tuition reduction passion reserved for our Jewish day schools was directed at legislators who don’t grasp the problem. This group is gigantic, beginning with your local and state officials. But it should also be a conversation with your congressman or senator vying for reelection.
Schools play a part in the goal of tuition reduction, and constantly assaulting a group cognizant of the problem isn’t productive. It would be far more productive to direct this passion toward elected officials who hold the potential to fix the problem – if they only knew there was a problem.
If you want to engage in these important conversations with elected officials, you must work with fellow community members by setting up introductory meetings with them built on this issue. Principals and other school officials who share your concern on this issue should also be in attendance. The Orthodox Union is dedicated to making these conversations happen and turning this passion into productive results.
For more information about beginning these types of conversations and sharing your passion, please visit www.ou.org/tuition.