The Avi Chai Foundation released the preliminary key findings of its 2008-09 census of American Jewish day schools.
Among the findings of the survey conducted by Marvin Schick:
- There were 228,174 students enrolled in day schools, an 11 percent increase from 2003-04.
- Orthodox day school enrollment continues to grow: Over the past decade, enrollment in Chasidic schools increased by 56 percent and in yeshiva-world schools by 34 percent.
- Since 1998, the number of community day schools has jumped to 98 from 75, with a 40 percent increase in enrollment.
- Solomon Schechter schools have seen a 25 percent decrease, bringing down overall enrollment in non-Orthodox schools by 2.5 percent since 2003-04.
- Five out of every six day schools is Orthodox.
Yossi Prager, Avi Chai’s North American executive director, says the numbers are encouraging because they show a substantial growth overall in the day school system. He’s hopeful that the increased numbers will hold into 2009-10 because the recession had started already when the census data was collected.
"Going into this year, there were serious concerns, particularly in schools serving a non-Orthodox population, about enrollment," Prager told The Fundermentalist. "Schools of all stripes have experienced dramatic increases in scholarship needs. Most of what I have heard is hand wringing, but it was not justified by the 2008-09 data."
Schick is now going back and taking more data from the non-Orthodox schools to see how their enrollment numbers look in 2009-10, said Prager, who said his take "will or won’t be justified by coming data over the next few months."
Prager is not pie-in-the-sky about the day school system. He recognizes that in its current state it is far too expensive, as day school tuition runs from $6,000 to 30,000 per year, with a large percentage of schools charging in the $20,000 range — a number Prager says is not sustainable.
The bright side of the recession, Prager says, is that the day school community is being forced to do some introspection and schools are focusing much more on how to keep the cost down.
"Communities are thinking about how to create sustainable schools, and I hope that there will be far greater attention turned to supporting advocacy for government support for the general studies portions of Jewish education," he said. "I’m not worried about the system in totality falling apart before our problems can be addressed, but there is a sense of urgency now because of the number of families that could pull kids from the system or choose not to enter it."