To tackle tuition crisis, stop complaining and start voting


As day school advocates ramp up their push to win more state funding, a panel on the tuition crisis agreed on motzei Shabbat that yeshiva parents need to empower those advocates — by voting.

At a forum on “Tackling the Tuition Crisis,” at the Young Israel of Woodmere, Lawrence Board of Education Vice President Asher Mansdorf scolded Five Towners for sitting home on election day.

“Because we did not go out to vote, we are considered of secondary importance to our elected officials,” Mansdorf said. “In this neighborhood, the Jewish vote has become an absolute afterthought. Everybody who runs in the Five Towns now knows that it is more important to get votes out of Long Beach and Elmont, because in this neighborhood nobody is going out to vote.”

I need people who are going to vote, I need people who are going to show up in Albany (and) meet with their legislators,” said Teach NYS Executive Director Maury Litwack. “We need people who are going to know who their legislators are and hold them accountable.”

“People here need to understand that the reason they need to vote is that that’s going to enable them to save money by making [Maury] powerful,” Mansdorf said.

The panel, moderated by YIW Rabbi Hershel Billet, called for the community to mobilize around the crisis and work optimistically toward a solution.

“The last thing you should do is walk out of here and say this is a fruitless effort,” said Litwack. “You can’t say something is the number one problem in our community and expect a solution overnight.”

“Education is an expensive propostion,” said UJA Federation Director of Day School Initiatives Chavie Kahn. “We are here tonight because we have a problem: The business model is broken.”

She urged day schools to “emulate what other independent schools have done: build endowments,” with UJA Federation commited to assisting this effort with matching funds.

Several Five Towns area schools are participating in this effort, she added. Local schools are also involved in NYS Teach efforts, Litwack said.

“Tuition and fundraising is not enough,” Kahn said. “There is no one magic bullet.”

While some states have passed voucher programs to help parents pay their private school tutition, this won’t fly in blue states like New York and New Jersey, Litwack cautioned. But obtaining fair reimbursement for the cost of the secular education component of day school tuition is even better, because that funding wont be income based, he said.

Litwack, whose orgaization is a project of the OU Advocacy Center, said that in recent years “we changed the argument. We made the argument to the state that this is” a matter of fairness.

“Until we started to talk to the legislators about the inequity, they never heard of that before,” he said. “They didn’t know about the basic inequity.”

Hundreds of day school parents and their communal leaders lobbied in Albany this year to make this point and “to show you’re a growing force,” Litwack said. “The impact when we are organized leads to incredible results.”

He marveled at having done “something we never had before — we had unity, achdus, with Schechter, yeshivish and Modern Orthodox schools all working together.”

In lobbying “like charter schools, like other advocacy groups,” Teach NYS has made inroads, he said, including winning funds for science, technology and math teachers.

The panelists agreed that there is no Constitutional barrier to funding Jewish schools when the funds are earmarked for secular education or operating costs such as security and transportation.