May 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

On the Westchester AGI Tuition Assistance Plan

William Hochman takes me to task for not recognizing a “solution” that has been proposed by lay leaders to the unsustainability of our yeshiva day school system that I’ve been writing about (“More on Tuition Assistance,” August 6, 2020). I am well aware of the program in Westchester (and similar ones in other communities) and I intentionally omitted it because the program is a prime example of how lay leaders will do just about anything to keep the current system afloat and postpone the day of reckoning as long as possible instead of making fundamental changes now as are desperately needed. In fact, I thank Mr. Hochman for bringing it up as it’s a great opportunity to explain how wrongheaded these approaches are.

The Westchester program moves us in the wrong direction on just about every front:

1) It further cements that Jewish education is a pay-per-use model instead of the communal model Chazal were clear that it should be based on. We have no chance of our day schools flourishing for the next generation if we don’t change this fundamental concept. Much like the public-school system, our day schools need to be funded by all community members regardless of whether they have zero or 10 children in the system. This plan moves us even further from that model.

2) It provides a subsidy to families making top 2% incomes. It will now bring even more families onto the rolls of those who can’t pay full tuition. As the years go on, you will need to be in the top 1% of incomes to pay full freight, then the top 0.5% of incomes. You don’t have to have a degree in advanced mathematics to know that the system will inevitably collapse. Again, this just postpones the day of reckoning instead of our leadership rolling up their sleeves now to do the necessary restructuring that will benefit everyone.

3) By definition, as fewer and fewer families pay the “list price,” that price will have to increase by larger and larger amounts for the few families that can still afford to pay it. Since it will be a required payment, it will have to be paid with after-tax dollars. That is exactly the opposite of the direction we should be going in. For those that are fortunate enough to be able to give large sums of money to schools, giving it voluntarily instead of forcibly would effectively allow them to give 50%+ more with the same after-tax cost ($100K tax deductible costs someone in the highest tax bracket only $63K so the receipt to the school is $37K greater or 58.7% more).

Unfortunately, the Westchester plan will probably appeal to many of our lay leaders as it will allow them to postpone yet again having to make real change to a completely broken model, one that is causing so much pain and suffering to so many as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. They will pat themselves on the back for a job well done while countless families continue to bleed, children go unborn and many young adults are lost to our way of life. Very sad. I continue to daven that our leaders wake up before it’s too late.

Gershon Distenfeld
Bergenfield
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