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Posted: June 20, 2007                                     ב"ה - ד' בתמוז, תשס"ז


How Much of My Income Should I Be Spending on Tuition?

Followed by

Practical Ideas to Solve the Tuition Crisis
Rabbi Shea Hecht
About the Author

Since my last article about the tuition crisis in my own Brooklyn community, many people have stopped me in the street, called or e-mailed me to discuss their pain and their ideas on this issue.


In order to deal with this problem it is imperative that we all, as a community, understand and agree on some basics. One key to our children's success is proper education. Without education our children are missing the foundation to success in life. Education is a responsibility of both parents and the community. The community has an obligation to make sure education is affordable to every family. Likewise, parents must know that they have to do whatever they can so their children can have the best education.


Once we agree that it is a personal and communal obligation, we must deal with the realities of life. What can we do about the cost of education? How do we deal with the expense?


At one time it was only educators and scholars who were given special considerations with tuition because they were under stress economically. Though we need to have sensitivity for children of educators and public servants, today the tuition problem has become more global.


More and more people are struggling to make it and are stretched to the limit. Today even professionals making a nice living are staggering under the high cost of tuition. It's not uncommon for a growing family to have six or more children attending several different Yeshivas and each establishment is expecting full tuition. I think it is high time that our educational institutions ask and come up with a reasonable answer to the all important question, "What percentage of a family's income should be going to tuition?"


Schools have to be more concerned with how much tuition they charge, how they collect it and who suffers the most - the children, our future - when they act in an inappropriate manner to collect tuition. Teachers, principals or administrators of course, need to care and show compassion for each and every child/family. Even people on a tuition committee should have sensitivity and compassion when they must refuse a family's request for assistance.


Here are some of the comments I recently heard regarding the tuition crisis many families are facing. When listening to these comments I could feel pain and distress many parents are subjected to when it comes to enrolling their children in school. "They pulled my daughter out of class and embarrassed her because I can't afford to pay tuition," "My son left Yeshiva because he can't bear to see me struggling over the tuition," "I can't afford to send my children to the Yeshiva that would suit them most," "My daughter is not in school. No one will take her because I can't pay," "My children's school won't even take my applications because I don't have the money for tuition," "My daughter is not sure what seminary she wants to go to and they all ask for an exorbitant non-refundable deposit. I hope the one school we could afford apply to will accept her." We cannot justify people suffering and being humiliated like this.


Yeshivas are not founded to turn a profit. The goal is to educate our children. It is to be expected that many, if not the majority of parents will need to ask for some kind of scholarship based on their income. Communities should expect to help fund the shortfall and demand of their yeshivas that tuition be better subsidized so the burden on families is more manageable.


I feel it's imperative for each educational institution to put together a think tank to see what ideas work for their community. A base rule is that a think tank/tuition committee needs to include educators and business people, the rich and poor so that all points of view are covered in discussion.


One thing that is definite is that by recognizing that this is a problem, both sides - school's administration and the parents - can work towards a solution. Parents have to understand that they can't expect to go on expensive yearly vacations, drive the fanciest car and walk around in a custom made suit and tell the Yeshiva they can't pay tuition. On the other hand, administrators must understand that parents shouldn't be sent on a guilt trip when enrolling their children. Parents don't have to hear every expense associated with running a school. An equitable way of determining how much each family can afford must be found.


With this said, it is understood that even full tuition doesn't cover all the expenses involved in educating a child and running a school. I don't know when or why it became fashionable to put the entire burden of Yeshiva costs on the parents. This trend must stop.


A phenomenon worth thinking about is why people give Tzedakah/charity to other places and not to the school that's teaching their children. It was amazing how many people angrily told me that it was because of the lack of compassion and feeling that was felt from the administration when they sat down to discuss tuition originally. Parents said, "When we asked the Yeshiva to work with us because we just started our business, instead of asking us to sign an IOU they bled us by insisting on head checks."  Now that these parents feel more secure financially they don't want to give money to the schools that showed them no mercy. Schools must be aware, that a little kindness would go a long way in future donations and cooperation.


Perhaps the worst stories that were shared with me over this week were those of students that were pushed out of the system because they couldn't pay. In today's day and age we know what it means when a kid is pushed out of the system and spends time in the streets - definite failure, kids-at-risk, etc. The responsibility of educating a child lies on the community and the parents, and this is a partnership that must be nurtured.


Together, these partners must answer the question, "What percentage of a family's income should be spent on education and how should it be divided fairly between the schools?"  Then they must come up with ways to keep the Yeshivas fiscally sound.



Practical Ideas to Solve the Tuition Crisis


After giving the matter a lot of thought and consulting many parents and educators I have come up with some suggestions on how to start grappling with this crisis. I have compiled these ideas into a general list. Every idea may not work in every place.


Hopefully, these will generate other ideas that will work in each community.


1) Government vouchers for school

2) Tax credit for tuition See below for a phone call you can make to help

3) Educational subsidies/foundation for scholarships within each community

4) Better fundraising /better financial management Schools need to take on the obligation to raise more money. They also should have some over site committee that takes a look from time to time to make sure they are getting the most for their dollar.

5) Better formula for how much to charge each family

6) Tzedakah and Maaser as tuition to our own institutions

 7) If you give extra ask for a voucher give to someone else If someone does give Tzedakah to a school they should ask for a receipt that could be used as a voucher towards tuition for someone who has a child in that school.

8) Adopt a child Those who can afford to should adopt the tuition of a needy child who would otherwise lose out.
9) Home schooling This option works for some, but would be a disaster for others.

10) School coupons Have parents buy school coupons to be used in local stores so that local vendors gain and the school makes a profit

11) Charity boxes Give daily Tzedakah in the school charity box

12) A bill for the future Some schools send their non-paying families a bill each year and tell them, "This is what you owe us. When you will be in a position to give, please do."

13) Signed IOU Other schools take this idea even further by making parents sign an IOU to be paid if and when they "make it."



You would be surprised to find out how much these efforts can pay off. 


Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb           Elliot Gibber
Executive Vice President              Chairman, OU Tuition Initiative


June 08, 2007
One sixty second phone call to this toll-free number could save our community millions of dollars: (800) 319 - 3403.

With just two weeks left in the Legislative session in Albany, now is the time to act to help families who are struggling to pay yeshiva tuition. Assemblyman Vito Lopez & Senator Marty Golden have introduced legislation that would allow middle-class parents to deduct the cost of private school tuition from their state taxes and poor families would receive an actual tax credit. This could save average families in our community thousands of dollars each year.

But we must ACT NOW. The legislative session in Albany ends June 21st

Please call Governor Spitzer's office today at (800) 319 - 3403.

If you speak with a live operator, please tell them:
I'm calling to ask the Governor to support the Lopez-Golden Tuition Tax Deduction Bill.

If you reach a voice mailbox, DO NOT HANG UP. Each message is logged and counts!

After the tone, leave the same message along with your zip code:

"I am calling to ask the Governor to support the Lopez-Golden Tuition Tax Deduction Bill. My zip code is XXXXX."

Governor Spitzer has the ability to get this done. But he must hear from you and everyone you know.

It's a simple call (800) 319- 3403.

Every single call made to the Governor is logged and will make a difference!



Read more articles by Rabbi Hecht 

Rabbi Hecht's Website:  www.sheahecht.com  



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