Being an observant Jew is not cheap. Kosher food costs more. Synagogue dues cost more. School costs more. High tuition costs for day school is nothing new in the Jewish community but at a time when the country is suffering through an economic downturn, the burden of tuition has become overwhelming.
This area literally has a dozen day schools serving children in kindergarten through 12th grade. Yet education has apparently remained far down on the community’s list of priorities. Remember Metropolitan Schechter High School, the Teaneck day school that was forced to close a week before the start of the school year because it needed only $1 million? That amount may seem high for many individuals, but the community could have easily raised the funds. Instead, Schechter closed and 90 teenagers scrambled to find new high schools, some right before their senior year when they would have to start their social lives from scratch.
This is not right.
The average annual tuition for one student at a northern New Jersey yeshiva is about $15,000. Multiply that by the 13 years of grade school and a family looks at just under $200,000 for schooling for just one child. If that family, as is common within the Orthodox community, has more than one child, those costs can be crippling. A family making $200,000 a year with three children in day school is living in poverty just trying to make ends meet.
Parents and educators are finally beginning to address the crisis. The idea put forward by the “group of concerned parents” to create a lower-cost track within the day-school system with increased class sizes and parental involvement and decreased faculty is but one notion. As members of the group have said, nothing has been set in stone and the basics of the idea are still open to debate.
Whether or not one agrees with the lower-cost outline, everybody should thank these parents for trying to think of something new. Jewish education is the responsibility of the entire community, not just the parents. The continuation of Jewish traditions is dependent on future generations. If those generations are not taught why our traditions are important, they will toss them aside.
As many have said, the current system cannot sustain itself. Parents cannot keep paying out these fortunes, and if the situation is not dealt with soon, more schools may suffer the fate of Schechter.