I take the liberty of sharing some very important thoughts from Yitzchok Adlerstein on Cross-Currents regarding the tuition crisis.
I present some excerpts of what he wrote:
There is a new kind of captive in the making, but do not expect to see any pidyon shvuyim effort on his or her behalf. This new prisoner is a sad by-product of the tuition crisis, and has not yet impressed people as worthy of inclusion on the short list of the most serious problems over which we agonize. Yet it is pitting whole groups of frum Jews against others, and threatens a dynamic of cooperation that has worked for as long as people can remember. The working professional increasingly feels frustrated and alienated by the “system” – at least insofar as it relates to the finances of mosdos of chinuch.
We all know that schools are growing more desperate in addressing shortfalls in revenue brought on by escalating costs and a prolonged ailing economy. Schools have little control over external funding like donations, so they push where they can, which increasingly means the portion of the parent body that they perceive to have some wiggle room. They can’t squeeze those who simply don’t have, so they raise tuition year after year. They know that the poor and the underemployed won’t produce more, but they are all on tuition assistance. Where there are no sugar-daddies available, it is the middle class that is asked to cough up more each year, subsidizing those who are in far more desperate financial straits.
Actually, they are not asked. They are told. The money is demanded, and they have no choice but to comply. In many communities, there are no alternative schools that will meet their expectations of Torah chinuch. They can be made to dance like puppets on a string. They are trapped by the “system:” they cannot deny Torah education to their children, so they have no choice but to sign over a progressively part of their income to their schools. They are trapped, as surely as is the shavui.
The reader will marvel at how selfish and uncharitable these people are! They should be grateful to the Ribbono Shel Olam that they are in a position to be able to give more, and not among those who have to take more!
Not so fast.
There are very few among the bulk of the working middle class who are earning so much that they can afford to pay tuition levies for multiple children without belt tightening, even with a spouse working part- or full-time. Day-school tuitions can commonly run 12-25K per child, and even higher. Non-commuter high schools take an even bigger bite. Do the arithmetic, and calculate what that means for a family with four, five, or more children in Torah schools – but translate the figures into the pre-tax dollars that are necessary to generate those sums.
Here is where it gets ugly. I wouldn’t write about this so openly if this were not already the dirty secret that everybody knows. The changed realities of the New Economy mean that people are having fewer children. They would like to have more children; they are not electing otherwise because they want summer homes, new cars, and Pesach in Italy. Those are not part of the equation. They are limiting family size because they cannot see how, bederech hateva, they can fork over those tuition checks for another child.
This equation is creating class warfare, of the kind that we may not have seen since people with means bought replacements for their children drafted during the dark days of the Cantonist decrees. The poor were victimized by the “khappers” who seized their children to replace those of the rich. Today, the unborn children of the more well to-do are being seized by tuition policies of day schools. And the resentment of the middle class is focused not only on the school board, but on the less affluent.
What the system lacks is an understanding that when a tuition break is given, that money is not “free;” someone pays for it. By granting tuition breaks to those employed by mosdos, the system has simply shifted the burden of raising those necessary funds from the mosod to the school, and by extension, to the middle-class parents who have no choice but to pay the resulting increased “full” tuition amount in the most tax-inefficient way imaginable. Were the system not shifting tuition burdens in this way, each mosad would have to raise tution dollars for its employees and balei battim would have a choice as to whether or not to donate to the mosdos. If they chose to – and many would if tuition burdens were relaxed – their donations would be tax deductible. Instead, balei baatim are forced to subsidize mosdos through a chinuch “tax.” often at the cost of increased working hours and/or spouses working who might not otherwise. Many balei baatim would willingly support local mosdos but few would have their spouse take a job solely to do so. Our current burden-shifting system often leaves them no choice.
Please, dear reader, do not shoot the messenger. I am conveying facts and feelings, not a halachic analysis nor hashkafic advice. There is a groundswell of resentment of the kind I described above. Getting angry at me will not make it go away. I am reporting reality, not taking sides.
The middle class feels played and extorted.
Is this a new problem? Yes! The gemara solved it, in earlier times. Mi-dina d’gemara, the entire community, not just the parent body of a particular school, pays for the chinuch of local children. The entire community can be assessed and made to pay for essential services. According to teshuvos over centuries, the some assessments are spread equally, and some are graduated according to income. In many cases, a compromise was implemented whereby half of it was a head tax, and the other half graduated.) The disappearance of the kehillah system, however, means that what should be happening according to halacha is not an option. We have no way of taxing the rich.
A generation ago, the problem was not as ubiquitous as it is today. Schools lived with the reality that fundraising would account for a large part, if not the majority, of the yearly budget. Much has changed since then. The numbers of children in schools was a fraction of what it is today, and a smaller number of gevirim (particularly Holocaust survivors who had done extremely well on American shores, and understood the need to support new mosdos of Torah) gave generously. Non-Orthodox Jews were approachable as donors for heimishe tzedakos; today, secular Jewish donors direct most of their money to non-Jewish projects. People did not question as much the “entitlement” of underpaid klei kodesh to subsidized tuition for their children.
I propose no solutions to this problem, no more than I can to the overall tuition crisis. I have proposed a contribution to a solution, however, and I will reiterate it. Our tzedaka giving is governed by nothing by hefkerus, while it should be guided by halacha. We need to educate – and, yes, enforce – the destination of tzedakah funds. Some poskim feel that 2/3 or more of our charitable funds stay local. Let’s be liberal, for the sake of argument, and only ask for half, as Baltimore did a few years ago on a voluntary basis. Schools, perhaps, cannot live with voluntarism. Part of granting tuition assistance should be an examination of charitable giving. Schools could stipulate (assuming poskim would agree with such a proposal) that they are entitled to a given (large) percentage of the 50% of the portion earmarked for local need. (Yes, there would have to be some way to accommodate families sending children to multiple schools.) It won’t balance the budget, but it could ease the escalating burden now placed on the successfully employed.
Those are the thoughts of Rabbi Adlerstein.
I have my own experiences that I can share, but as someone who has gone broke over paying tuition, he made my point well enough.
I am crying for answers to how many more hours I can work each week to somehow pay my bills and cover tuition for my children. I am on the verge of collapse.
A Frustrated Parent
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