April 16, 2024
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April 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Jewish Education Tax

The new day school tuition assistance program recently announced by The Moriah School of Englewood does more than create a transparent and simple tuition assistance program. It puts the financial burden squarely where it should be; on the current and future parents.

Four years ago, my wife and I took our son on what has now become a pilgrimage of sorts for many Orthodox Jews. No, we did not go to Israel for Sukkot or Miami for Pesach. We traveled the New York and New Jersey area, searching for the right neighborhood to lay down our roots, purchase a home, and build our family.

Among the many factors we weighed each community by was whether we could afford living in that area. Affordability was mainly broken down into whether we could afford a house and whether we could afford tuition. House prices are easy to find. Within minutes you can find out an expected monthly payment on a thirty year mortgage for any home. Finding out tuition cost, however, was more difficult.

All too often the responses from community representatives when asked about the cost of local tuition were that the local yeshivas aren’t cheap, but they offer great scholarships. Many young families we spoke to were planning on needing scholarships and had no problem recruiting others who needed them as well. I found this to be troubling as I am all too aware of the challenges young families are facing with increased tuition costs.

Back in 2007 I started a now defunct Facebook group called “Yeshiva Tuition is Too Expensive” which at one point had over 1,000 members discussing their concerns and potential solutions to the “tuition crisis,” I also read and commented on the popular “200k Chump” blog where an anonymous blogger rallied the Bergen County community around the need for an overhaul of the current approach to tuition and scholarships. I followed the multiple initiatives to curb tuition and help increase scholarship funds from Yeshivat He’Atid to NNJKIDS to the push to remember the yeshiva system in your last will and testament.

But really, the tuition crisis we face is more than just a lack of funds. It is a crisis of poor financial management and life- decision making. We have families moving into communities knowing they will require tuition assistance to stay afloat financially.

We have heard rallying cries by parents who are financially strapped for the wealthy to give more money to schools. We have become more intrusive into other people’s lives, more judgmental about who receives what assistance and whether they deserve it, and often more unethical about our finances so schools will not know how much we truly make. What this has created is a crisis of character.

What the new Moriah tuition assistance program does so well is set up a system that can scale and positively influence financial decision making that can have ripple effects through our entire community.

At its most basic level, the new program gives transparency to the Orthodox Jewish tax. Some people may be surprised that there is such a tax as it has never been clearly articulated in such a way.

Most would describe the additional cost of tuition to cover those who need assistance as charity. This charity, however, was never optional, as it became a firm cost of tuition. This charity wasn’t just for the neediest, as Moriah mentioned in their announcement, “At present 30% of our families are on financial aid. There are approximately 20%-30% of our families who stretch to meet their tuition requirements.” This wasn’t charity. It was a tax on the wealthy. Moriah has recognized this and has provided guidelines on who is being taxed and by what standards, or in this case, whose tuition is reduced the least and the most. The transparency and sliding scale based on income and property tax clearly articulates the notion that this is not charity anymore and we shouldn’t think of it as such.

If you dig deeper into the plan, you realize that Moriah has created a socioeconomic floor for itself. The school has been able to announce that they do not believe that all families should be financially homogenous but while doing so, have also put a floor on what they expect parents to pay, regardless of their financial situation. This audacity and transparency is a pleasure to see. We all know that behind closed doors, schools must deny some children that can’t afford tuition but rarely would a school want that publicized. Moriah is avoiding confrontation on the subject altogether. Parents will know before applying whether they can afford the school and shouldn’t expect any additional tuition assistance that isn’t in the publicized chart.

The ripple effects through our community can be widespread. If other schools adopt this model, then a fairly simple calculator would let parents know what their tuition will be like in the coming year for all local schools, including what assistance they will receive, kind of like Expedia for yeshiva. Young families will move to communities they can actually afford rather than hoping schools will come to their rescue when the tuition bill gets too high. There will be more clarity for young families on the cost of having another child and the savings on moving to another community. Parents will be forced to be more responsible with their money and decisions. There will be no need for judgments, jealousy, or animosity regarding tuition assistance. If this approach is adopted by all schools, we may have solved the crisis of character.

The tuition crisis, however, will still be around. There still isn’t enough money out there and initiatives that I mentioned earlier are commendable attempts at curbing costs and maximizing community funds. Moriah has taken a bold direction into, what I see, as a fairer and smarter approach to tuition assistance. I am hopeful that their efforts will be noticed by other schools and replicated in a way that makes sense for each school and community around the nation.

Ely Rosenstock is a local resident. To contact him or learn more, visit his website at: www.elyrosenstock.com

By Ely Rosenstock

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