Photo Credit: Derech HaTorah of Rochester

How far would you go to cap your tuition at $7,000 a year for all of your kindergarten through eighth grade kids?

One out of town yeshiva is hoping that the answer to that question is “all the way to Lake Ontario.” The school, Derech HaTorah of Rochester (N.Y.) is dangling an eye-popping financial incentive in an effort to entice families to pack up their belongings, call the movers and put down roots in a completely new location.


Founded in 2004 with 31 students, Derech HaTorah currently has an enrollment of over 130 students and is seeing an annual growth rate of five to ten percent. The school had previously offered a two-year $1,000 per-child tuition break to new families, but it was clear that something more significant was needed to draw people to Rochester in even larger numbers. Having written her 242 page doctoral dissertation on tuition incentives, Derech HaTorah founding principal Lea Goldstein was confident that lower educational costs were the key to growing Rochester’s Jewish population, particularly with families in established communities struggling to keep their heads above water amid soaring tuition and housing prices.

“Tuition incentives work, and they really do bring in families,” Goldstein told The Jewish Press. “We started looking at a long-term plan and wanted to come up with something tantalizing and fabulous so that people couldn’t resist.”

Numerous discussions, conversations and analyses resulted in Derech HaTorah’s $7,000 tuition promotion, which seems almost too good to be true. Under the plan, new families who enroll in Derech HaTorah for the upcoming school year will pay no more than $7,000 annually in tuition for all of their children, for as long as they have kids in the school. Derech HaTorah has good news for those moving to Rochester with children below kindergarten age, making them eligible for the special tuition rate through the beginning of the 2025-2026 academic year. Current Derech HaTorah parents are cheering as well, with their tuition capped at $10,000 per family under a separate local family incentive plan, with all parents remaining responsible for the cost of registration and other school fees.

Tuition at Derech HaTorah had been $10,800 per child, with two local funding sources, the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation and the Dan Family Foundation, helping reduce tuition costs. (Both foundations are excited about the new plan, but don’t actually figure into the equation of making the tuition incentive work.) While Derech HaTorah will be seeing less tuition dollars coming in from parents under the promotion, looking at the big picture has Goldstein convinced that the numbers will work.

“We are really wagering that parents who are successful and are getting such significant discounts after paying $20,000 to $30,000 in tuition till now will want to continue supporting the school and its fundraising campaigns, with the added benefit of those contributions being tax deductible,” noted Goldstein.

The winning formula at Derech HaTorah isn’t just bargain-basement priced tuition. It is the combination of being able to give students a high-quality yeshiva education, in a wholesome community where a three to four bedroom house with both a front and a back yard can sell for about $250,000. With the University of Rochester Medical Center being one of the country’s leading academic medical centers, families in the past had often moved to the community but left as their kids got older. The fact that there are now local yeshiva high schools for both boys and girls means that many more doctors who come to Rochester are settling down in Rochester for the long term. (The lower tuition plan is not being coordinated with local shuls, but Goldstein said all the shuls are very excited by it.)

“It happens to be an amazing place to raise kids,” observed Goldstein, a born and bred Rochesterian.

A flyer for a past Charidy fundraising event.

Derech HaTorah first announced its new family tuition incentive just after Pesach and Goldstein says that people who hear about the program often respond with disbelief. Several families drawn in by the program are already in the process of buying houses, with a handful of others coming to check out the community, which is about a five hour drive from New York City.

“The big question is can we get people excited enough to come look,” said Goldstein. “Once they come for a Shabbos and see the school they are sold, but there has to be a powerful enough reason to get them into their cars or on a plane and we are doing our best to get the word out about this. The last thing that we want is to be the Torah world’s best kept secret.

Dr. Rivka Berzow is looking forward to her family’s upcoming move from Portland to Rochester and to enjoying significant tuition relief over the next six years, until her youngest graduates from Derech HaTorah.

“Tuition wasn’t the only factor in our decision to move to Rochester, but it definitely helped,” said Berzow. “When you take the tuition incentive together with the housing prices, it is really a huge benefit.”

Sydney Altfield, executive director of Teach NYS, lauded Derech HaTorah for the initiative, noting that high tuition costs are a real threat to the continuity of the Jewish nation, with some parents simply deciding that a yeshiva education is a luxury that is beyond their means. Teach NYS, which was founded a decade ago to advocate for equitable government funding for the New York’s nonpublic schools, works closely with over 85 member institutions spanning the spectrum of Orthodoxy to ensure that they are getting their fare share of state-supplied resources. While the idea of lowering tuition once seemed like an impossible dream, Teach NYS has made it a reality, at least in some schools.

“We are thrilled to see Derech HaTorah lowering tuition for both current and incoming students,” said Altfield, adding,” “Government funding is a big piece of the puzzle and now that there is an organization like Teach NYS that not only ensures money coming into schools each year, but is continuing to increase such funds, schools can set their budgets at ease, which was not always the case.”

Brandeis Hebrew Academy in Lawrence is another school that has stepped up for parents in a significant way, recently dropping tuition on a sliding scale. Reductions for the upcoming school year range from $495 for kindergarteners to $3,798 for eighth graders, $4,798 for fifth graders and $5,298 for second graders. While not all of Teach NYS’s member schools are able to lower their rates at this time, many have instituted smaller than usual tuition increases, while still offering enhanced services.

“More security, more STEM programs, more qualified teachers, all of this without the drastic increases,” said Atfield.

Teach NYS is part of the Orthodox Union’s Teach Coalition which has divisions in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida, the last of which made headlines recently for its own efforts to help financially-strapped parents cover the costs of educating their children. This past March, Governor Ron DeSantis announced an expansion of the state’s school choice program that made every child in the state eligible for vouchers totaling nearly $8,000 regardless of their family income. DeSantis described the legislation as “the largest expansion of education choice in the history of these United States,” with 1.3 million Florida students already learning in private and charter schools and district choice programs.

Similarly, Ohio expanded its EdChoice program earlier this month as part of its $190 billion state budget, making every student in the state eligible for a taxpayer funded tuition scholarship, reported Cleveland Jewish News. Approximately 3,500 children are enrolled in Jewish schools and according to a statement released by Agudath Israel of America, nearly every student in the state will be eligible for scholarships that range in amount from $6,165 for elementary schoolers, $8,400 for high schoolers and anywhere from $9,000 to $30,000 or more for special needs students depending on their disability category. The move was hailed by Rabbi Yitz Frank, executive director of Agudath Israel of Ohio, who described it as a big win for local families and for the school choice movement, reported Cleveland Jewish News.

“We fundamentally believe that every family should be able to have at least some of their education dollars follow the school that the parents want them to attend,” said Rabbi Frank. “Many families in the Jewish community want that flexibility to attend a Jewish school and we support that right, and we support the right of parents to broadly choose any school that fits best for their children.”

Rabbi Simcha Dessler, who serves as both menahel and educational director at Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, the largest Jewish day school in Ohio, described EdChoice as a game changer for children and their parents.

“The EdChoice scholarship program and its expansion will allow many families to access the quality education that Hebrew Academy of Cleveland is known for,” noted Rabbi Dessler. “We support efforts and initiatives that empower parents to choose their child’s education thereby creating the most pathways and options to lead successful lives.”

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Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients. She can be contacted at [email protected].