A Formal Jewish Education – You Can Afford It (If You Want to)

Recently a father in West Bloomfield wrote an essay to explain why he and his wife could not attend the day school in which I happen to be the Head of School.   He acknowledges the desire to send his children to Hillel and even acknowledges its excellent reputation.  But they cannot afford it. Well, I have good news, they can and so can just about any other Jewish family who wants to, at least in the Detroit area.

I cannot speak for any other community other than Detroit. In our community we have philanthropists and foundations that believe it is not a burden to give tzedakah to enable Jewish children to receive a Jewish education. In fact, our donors recognize it takes the entire Jewish community to raise a Jewish child and take on this responsibility as a sacred act. Our many donors, along with the Jewish Federation of Detroit, make it possible for 58% of our students to receive an education they would otherwise not be able to afford.  In addition, I assure everyone that the families who receive tuition assistance not only have integrity, they recognize the importance of a Jewish day school education for their children, families and future of the American Jewish community.  All of these families make some level of sacrifice to send their children to our day school.

In addition, Hillel just received a transformative gift from the William Davidson Foundation that will provide each family with a grant up to $36,000. This grant increases by $1,000 each year up to $36,000, effectively lowering the real tuition dollars parents will need to pay. This new grant program brings predictability to the tuition process along with stability. While tuition will increase modestly each year, the value of the grant will outpace the increase, effectively lowering the real dollars families will have to pay the longer they stay at Hillel.  This program is primarily targeted to families who do not qualify for financial assistance. So many of the middle class are squeezed out, and this program addresses this.

Between our generous tuition assistance program and the implementation of the Davidson Grant, Hillel should be affordable to almost everyone who wants this education for their children. We are committed to breaking down any financial barriers.  This father also expressed concern that tuition assistance programs have bankrupted other schools and he does not want to be a part of that. I certainly appreciate his concern. Fortunately Hillel has a strong fiscal history and is managed with great responsibility. In addition, our programs are all strategically planned so that any tuition assistance program or grants program will not jeopardize the financial stability of the school.

Our donors and our leaders want families to take advantage of  tuition assistance or the Davidson Grant program. We want Jewish children at Hillel – the future depends on it.

Finally, this family feels they can provide the necessary Jewish education at home for their children. That is outstanding. Jewish education and living begins in the home. However, their background and knowledge are unique. Most parents today cannot provide that level of opportunity.  In addition, I would humbly suggest that it is certainly easier for them while their children are young. I am not sure it will be as easy as they get older. They are also possibly depriving their children of a Jewish social life with like- minded friends/families who are committed to similar values.

Yes, it is a commitment to send your children to a Jewish day school. Yes it is costly. Yes, for most it does require giving up on some or even many extras. But since when did anything of great value and worth come easily? A day school education is not only a priceless gift for your children, it is for the community. And I am confident that when the Pew study is analyzed in greater detail, it will once again reinforce that those who attended a day school have the greatest Jewish identification and patterns of Jewish living and values in the survey.


7 Responses to A Formal Jewish Education – You Can Afford It (If You Want to)

  1. MAF says:

    I was completely flabbergasted by the father’s position that accepting financial aid was somehow unethical or dishonorable. But later, he admits that he could in fact afford the price of day school–if the family sacrifices its yearly trip to Israel. So it is really a matter of priorities in the end–a couple of weeks in Israel every year, or 9 months of immerse Jewish education (with a strong Israel emphasis).

  2. Dan Ab says:

    While it’s wonderful that your school is able to provide so much financial aid, the original writer also noted moral concerns about becoming a community charity case to send his children to a private school. You might not share his concern, but it is a real concern of many that is worth at least acknowledging.

    You also really lose me with, ” In addition, I would humbly suggest that it is certainly easier for them while their children are young. I am not sure it will be as easy as they get older. They are also possibly depriving their children of a Jewish social life with like- minded friends/families who are committed to similar values.” I’ve heard this view time and time again and it disgusts me every time. If a community isolates non-day school children and their families from their Jewish peers, it is a disgrace to the community, not the child. While acknowledging all the skills and experiences a child gets by attending a day school, enrollment should not be requirement to be part of a community.

    Also, for what it’s worth, the 11% response rate for the Pew survey along with very few day school attendees identified makes it impossible to use those data evaluate the effect of day schools on identification etc – not that some people won’t try.

    @MAF, Speaking of surveys, pretty much every survey that looks at both Israel trips & day school attendance shows that they are both powerful factors in long-term Jewish identity building. I’d venture to say that someone who spends several weeks a year immersed in Hebrew with reinforcement the rest of the year will come out more fluent than someone with 12 years of Hebrew instruction in a classroom and little full immersion.

    • MAF says:

      Dan, private school financial aid is normal and acceptable. Are you saying that people should not apply for aid when they send their children to university, but rather apply to the cheapest school they can afford a full ride at? Perhaps it is an egalitarian ideal to charge all families an equal amount but the current practice is to have progressive taxes and tuition. The more affluent pay more so the less affluent can afford to participate. This is sustainable as long as the school is well managed, and in progressive circles this is considered socially just.

      • Dan Ab says:

        Private school financial aid may be normal for those who attend private schools, but it might not be normal for the vast majority of people who don’t. If people are seriously talking about expanding day school enrollment rather than just trying to maintain the failing status quo with more than 2/3 of kids not in Jewish day schools, then you need to understand this reality.

        As for universities, the progressive opinion I understand is to be very concerned with how rapidly tuition has risen in the past 2 decades at both private and public schools due to investments that have little to do with academic outcomes (or the plummeting public financial support of public universities). Even then, payments for university tuition are still dominated by loans rather than need-based scholarships. Some schools have been pushing towards tuition based on family income. Thanks to its huge endowment, Harvard is the most aggressive regarding this. At Harvard, estimated tuition for a family of 4 with one child in college with $125K/year income and $10K/year of interest/dividend income is $18,100/year (what college cost not too long ago). This family would be considered a day school charity case. That is definitely financial aid, but remember that Harvard takes only 2000 students a year is, by far, at the extreme end of this practice.

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