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Study: Underfunded Day Schools Require Significant Outside Help

Jewish day schools, with relatively few exceptions, are seriously underfunded.

That is the finding of a new study, “The Financing of Jewish Day Schools,” conducted by Marvin Schick and Jeremy Dauber.

They found that the average per student expenditures in Jewish day schools are well below comparable expenditures at private schools and about the same as they are in public schools.

Yet in a majority of day schools, tuition and other mandatory fees cover no more than half of the budget, so that substantial funds have to be raised from outside sources.

“Many, perhaps most Jewish day schools are forced to live a parsimonious existence,” wrote Schick, an educational consultant, and his associate, Dauber.

At the same time, the authors found, tuitions are high enough to prevent many parents from sending their children to day school.

Unless tuition is made more affordable, conclude Schick and Dauber, most American Jews will not elect the day school option. The study examined data supplied by 154 day schools outside the New York area, with numbers based on the schools’ budgets and enrollments from the 1995-1996 school year. It was funded by the Avi Chai Foundation, a New York-based entity that promotes Jewish education.

Survey respondents included Orthodox schools that are part of the Torah Umesorah network, the Conservative movement’s Solomon Schechter system, and the Reform movement’s day schools, as well as transdenominational schools known as community day schools.

On issues relating to tuition, the study found:

The average tuition at community day schools is $5,059; $5,465 at Reform schools; $6,083 at Conservative schools and $5,131 at Orthodox schools.

While a minority of students get significant scholarship aid, others don’t get any. Thus the average amount paid by parents, per student, at community day schools is $4,199; at Reform schools $4,415; at Conservative schools $5,256; and at Orthodox schools $3,423.

Prospective parents who opt against day schools usually cite tuition — and the unavailability of adequate scholarship assistance — as the reason.

The less observant a family is, the more likely that high tuition is a barrier to day-school attendance.

In examining faculty salaries and qualifications, the authors found:

Over the past decade or so, salaries have risen to retain and to attract educational administrators such as principals and headmasters.

Higher salaries have not been sufficiently strong magnets to draw gifted people to teaching careers at day schools.

The number of Jewish educators qualified for such positions is sparse.

The authors found that when it comes to funding:

While about 40 percent of the schools reported an increase in federation funding over the past five years when measured in absolute dollars, 67 percent of the schools reported that federation funding had decreased when measured as a percentage of their budgets.

Instability in fund raising could be offset by endowments, as it is in many major cultural and educational institutions.

Within the day-school world, meaningful endowments are the exception and not the rule.

Orthodox schools are more successful fund-raisers than their non-Orthodox counterparts, outperforming other schools by nearly two to one in per capita fund raising.

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