You hear the same complaint at the start of every school year: The cost of tuition for Jewish day school is a burden many Jewish families can’t afford.
This complaint is understandable. With tuition at many New York area days schools hovering above $20,000 a year (and some approaching $30,000), a Jewish education seems more like a luxury than a staple of Jewish life.
The so-called tuition crisis has not fallen on deaf ears. Since its founding in 2013, Teach NYS, a project of the OU Advocacy Center, has fought to make Jewish education affordable for all families. We have expanded our efforts beyond New York State and into New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida, and we have plans to grow nation-wide.
Consider New York State, where there are about 150,000 students enrolled in yeshivas and Jewish day schools; in New York City alone, Jewish student enrollment reached record levels this year, with more than 100,000 children enrolled in day schools and yeshivas. Roughly 13 percent of children attend non-public schools state-wide, but receive a meager 1 percent of government education funds. Teach NYS is working to level the playing field.
By working with member schools, parents, and local and federal policy makers, Teach NYS has delivered significant resources for non-public schools. On the state level, in 2012 the New York legislature spent $111 million on non-public schools. With Teach NYS at work, that number has increased to $345 million annually. Since its founding, Teach NYS has helped secure nearly $1 billion for non-public schools.
Here are four ways Teach NYS is making Jewish education better and safer across New York State:
1) Funding for state-mandated measures: Every year, Teach NYS lobbies the legislature for funding services that non-public schools must carry out, such as the Mandated Services Reimbursement (MSR) and Comprehensive Attendance Policy (CAP) programs. For 2016-2017, Teach NYS’ advocacy helped bring that total to $103 million. Several schools are using CAP repayments for endowments.
2) Security: For the first time in New York City’s history, Jewish day schools and yeshivas have access to $20 million in city funds for hiring security guards under Local Law 2, thanks to Teach NYS’ advocacy work alongside City Councilmember David Greenfield. Teach NYS also helped make schools safer by advocating for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make security funds from the SAFE Act available to non-public schools. That gave Jewish day schools and yeshivas access to $15 million for items such as intercoms, remote access systems and central lockdown buttons.
3) After-school funding: This year, Teach NYS helped Jewish schools and yeshivas in Long Island’s Five Towns get access to $600,000 in grants for after-school programs.
4) Universal Pre-K: Teach NYS has fought to make more than $15 million of the universal pre-k government funds available to Jewish day schools. Teach NYS is also campaigning to make Jewish day schools eligible for New York City funds under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-K program.
There is a long way to go, but these successes and our continued work is helping schools stabilize costs, freeze tuition increases and be more generous with scholarships. The more parents and schools join our efforts, the louder our voices will be. And if we are loud enough, the policy makers will listen.