Politz hosts expert on ‘Tackling the Tuition Crisis’ facing Jewish day schools

SOURCE: Jewish Community Voice 

Families who send their children to Jewish day schools face huge costs that not only impact their lives, but the entire Jewish community. Day school education, seen by many as the primary way to ensure Jewish continuity, is prohibitively expensive, particularly for families with several or more children.

“Tackling the Tuition Crisis” was the focus of a Jan. 7 event hosted by Politz Day School in Cherry Hill. The featured speaker was Maury Litwack, executive director of the Teach Advocacy Network, a project of the Orthodox Union devoted to solving the tuition crisis.

Litwack, who was introduced by local Teach NJS leader Yaakov Bagley, said the high cost of day school tuition forces parents to make difficult decisions on limiting the number of children they have, which impacts Jewish continuity. Some parents who want to send their children to day school are forced to send them to public school. Many parents, facing day school and college costs for their children, can’t save for their own retirements. The high cost of day school education also limits the career choices of people. Those who would like to have a career in the arts or other creative areas cannot pursue their dreams because of the need to enter higher-paying careers.

The day school population is growing rapidly, according to Litwack. He said that this year, over 300,000 children are in Jewish day schools or yeshivas. That is larger than the school population of 12 states.

Litwack told those gathered at Politz Day School—parents and school leaders from both Politz and Kellman Brown Academy—that cutting expenses at the schools would have only a limited effect. He said quality education costs money, and trimming the budgets would save only a few percentage points. The key, he said, was to raise revenues.

“I’m really here to talk about increasing revenue,” said Litwack, and the area he focused on was government funding. He noted that the United States is the only country in the world that does not fund private schools.

Litwack gave a brief overview of the history of government funding of day schools, from nothing several decades ago, to the point now that some states are funding some of the costs of transportation to and from school, school nurses, technology and school security. These are costs incurred by all students. None of the money being spent goes to religious education.

In 1965, Rabbi Hermann Naftali Neuberger of the Ner Israel Yeshiva in Baltimore proposed the idea that state and local governments should pay the salaries of the teachers of secular subjects in private religious schools. This, according to Litwack, needs to be a main focus of advocacy efforts.

Litwack noted that getting government funds for day schools has had more success in New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida than in New Jersey. He encouraged those in attendance to get involved by making their voices heard in state and local government, voting, organizing, lobbying, and holding politicians accountable.

Elected leaders, according to Litwack, need to hear the message that more and better day schools produce jobs and better-educated graduates. He spoke of the two “Ds” of activism—becoming “doers” and “door openers.”

“We have to start by showing up,” said Litwack. The community must apply itself on its number one priority. “We can achieve real success for our children and grandchildren.”

Following his prepared remarks, Litwack took questions from the audience. One of the questions focused on whether public money going to day schools violated church-state separation. He said that legislation can be crafted, and has been in several states, that passes Constitutional muster. According to Litwack, areas that advocates of government funding are looking to fund, such as security, nursing, transportation and technology, are governmental responsibilities to all students.

“Tackling the Tuition Crisis” was an event held as part of Politz Day School’s 50th anniversary year. Upcoming is a gala lecture, “Will the Next Generation of American Jews Be Up to the Challenge?” on Wednesday, Mar. 7 at Cong. Beth El. The 7:30 p.m. event will feature Malcolm Hoenlein, CEO/executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.