Rabbi Jay Kelman – the founder of Torah in Motion, a teacher at TanenbaumCHAT and one of GAJE’s founding members – has written a persuasive article in which he points to the irrefutable power of pointedly directed and pointedly monitored philanthropy in bringing back students into the classrooms of our Jewish schools where enrolment has fallen over the years.
The article appeared in Lehrhaus as a response to an earlier article that suggested reduced financial investment by philanthropists in schools was a more likely guarantor of the survival of the various schools in our embattled Jewish day school system.
Rabbi Kelman posits the nub of his thesis at the outset of his commentary “It is undoubtedly true that the cost per student has risen dramatically over the years. However, asking donors to stop giving money to schools, thereby forcing serious cost cutting, is extremely unlikely to help, and quite certain to make the problem worse.”
He then sets about proving his thesis by testing various cost-cutting scenarios, relying on published figures for local and national educational costs. He demonstrates the case of a school whose costs are reduced by 50%. Then Rabbi Kelman poignantly asks: “But who would want to go to such a school? And for those who do what kind of an education would they receive? You get what you pay for, and quality costs money.
“Even with a 50% cut in costs, the annual tuition bill for a family with four children—a typical size of a Modern Orthodox family— would still be somewhere between $40,000-$50,000 a year. With no philanthropic dollars coming in, many families would still be forced out of the day school system. And all the more so if those families have five or even six children. Asking donors to no longer support our schools is not the solution to the tuition crisis.”
Indeed, Rabbi Kelman makes the eloquent case for seeking more assistance from our community-minded philanthropists. “It is here that philanthropists can make a real difference. But instead of asking donors to stop giving money, schools should ask for more money and greater donor oversight.
“An example of the power of this type of giving is clearly demonstrated at TanenbaumCHAT in Toronto, where two philanthropists donated $15 million on condition that tuition would be lowered from $28,500 to $18,500 a year over five years. The $15 million covered only about half of the lost tuition, forcing the school to find ways to remain eligible for the money. One of the beautiful aspects of the plan was that the school was free to reach its target tuition in any way it wanted. The donors provided the funding, and let the educators decide how to best meet their conditions.
The results speak for themselves. After years of declining enrolment, the tide has turned. Because of the foresight of two philanthropists, the incoming Grade 9 class has gone from 198 students (before the gift) to 298 students in just one year, and to over 300 students for this upcoming year.”
We re-emphasize Rabbi Kelman’s conclusions. The results do indeed speak for themselves. The reduced tuition has led to dramatic increases in enrolment.
These new enrolment figures are amazing and deeply encouraging, Moreover they are suggestive of a strong, knowledgeable, committed generation growing into and steering our Jewish future.
••• Rabbi Kelman’s commentary can be found at:
GAJE August 23, 2019