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Moriah to institute new tuition affordability program

Good news for the middle class – and for Jewish day school affordability.

The Moriah School in Englewood, which runs from prekindergarten through eighth grade, has announced a new tuition affordability program, which will cut tuition for parents making as much as $360,000 a year.

Full tuition at the school ranges from $12,000 for kindergarten to $15,425 for middle school. (The prekindergarten program is not eligible for the tuition breaks.)

“We’ve been talking, as a board and as a community, about tuition affordability and the tuition crisis for years,” said Evan Sohn, the school’s president. “We decided this was the year we were going to address that issue.”

Under the new program, discounts of up to a third are available to parents, based on their income and the number of students they have enrolled at either Moriah or yeshiva high schools.

It will take four enrolled students for families reporting an income of $360,000 to see a discount. One-child families wanting to take advantage of the program will need to have an income of no more than $140,000.

Those families bringing in less than $140,000 – roughly double the median household income for New Jersey – will be expected to file for financial aid, a more intrusive process that includes itemizing expenses, such as summer camps, vacations, automobile makes, and cable television bills.

“It is a very invasive process as the financial aid committee is investing the community’s money and [must] do so with extreme care,” is how the school explains the traditional financial aid process on the web page announcing the new program.

The new program require participants to file a copy of tax returns and W2 income statements and property tax bills. Those families paying more than $21,500 in property tax will not be eligible.

“This is a first step,” Mr. Sohn said. “We’re going to learn a lot this year about what works and what doesn’t work.”

He said that he expects about 24 families to move from the traditional financial aid process into the new program.

“About 30 percent of our school today is receiving some sort of financial relief,” he said. “We expect another 20 to 30 percent to be in this program.”

The day school community has started paying attention to affordability – a concern manifested both in this program and in flat tuition rates at most area schools over the past two years – after a propitious rise in tuitions. At Moriah, Mr. Sohn said, tuitions doubled over 12 years, even as the average income rose only 38 percent.

That steep rise reflected “increased resource requirements, increased financial aid requirements, and increased technology spending,” he said. Being able to attract and retain the best faculty possible costs money.

“We had to do something to make the school more affordable for the middle income families, and at the same time continue to invest and attract the best faculty possible. We want people to say, ‘This is a school that really cares about me, that understands my cost of living,'” he said.

Mr. Sohn, who is the first graduate of Moriah to head the school’s board, said the school has taken measures to bring in revenue other than from tuition.

“We got a grant last summer to renovate what was the auditorium to turn it into a social hall that’s bringing in new revenue,” he said. “We’ve held bar mitzvahs and we’re doing our first wedding soon. We are launching an extended day program,” which will bring in revenue while helping parents who are still at work when the school day finishes.

“One thing we found out from a recent survey was how many dual working families we have. I think 70 percent of those surveyed were dual working parents. That really says a lot about the changing demographics.

“You could see how you have two parents, they both work hard, and in any other community they would be considered quite well off. Here they’re struggling with the high price of tuition.

“That’s the segment we want to address with this program,” he said.

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