Addressing the tuition crisis


The first in a series of articles attempting to confront and offer solutions to the financial problem of yeshiva day school tuition.

By Malka Eisenberg

The Jewish people have faced many hazards to their continuity over the generations, but today we must confront a danger that is choking off the very core of our values, threatening to uproot and decimate families, say some parents and community leaders.“The greatest existential threat to Jewish survival, the Amalek of Jewish survival, is yeshiva day school tuition in the galus,” declared George Hanus, Chicago’s Superfund chairman. “There is a crisis of funding Jewish education.”

In addition to his position as chairman of Superfund, Hanus is chairman of the Jewish Education Leadership Institute at Loyola University, chairman emeritus of Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago and chairman of Operation Jewish Education –– the five percent mandate.

The Superfund endowment, also known as the Kehilla Fund and the Jewish Day School Guarantee Trust Fund, was started in Chicago in 2004, aiming to set up an endowment, like a savings account that pays out interest. It is supplied with money via the five percent mandate and the annual campaign and is for all Jewish day schools in the Chicago area. It accepts donations year round and runs fundraisers such as concerts. Donors can also specify a particular school.

“The current structure of funding the schools is destroying the Jewish people,” explained Hanus. “The reality is that there are approximately one million Jewish children in galus; only 20 percent are in day schools and yeshivas. Eighty percent will never ever learn a posuk of chumash. The cost of $15,000 after taxes is preventing anybody who is not frum from birth or rich from learning a posuk of chumash.”

“Every Jew has the responsiblility, the chiyuv, to give five percent of their will to any endowment fund they want,” asserted Hanus. “The money goes in and goes to all the schools in the community based on enrollment or pursuant to the donor’s designation.”

“It is no longer a topic of discussion at the Shabbos table,” Hanus noted, “but one that is calamitous to the Jewish people. The rabbonim and local communities are not doing anything about it. Absolute silence.”

“We need a change in attitude,” he continued. “Rather than viewing Jewish education as a consumer model like buying a shirt, it has to be viewed like the fire department.” Just as the community recognizes that it is essential to have a fire department, each Jewish community also needs to fund Jewish education, Hanus explained, enumerating three major flash points in the crisis.

“Schools charge large tuition to provide a decent living wage for teachers,” he pointed out. “But then shalom bayis is destroyed in almost all homes because families can’t keep up with the tuition.”

A second issue is that yeshivas take in an inordinate amount of scholarships, resulting in the children being “warehoused,” rather than educated. Since 25 percent of every class is special education, schools don’t have the resources to deal with the children, Hanus reported.

“The last chillul Hashem, the biggest in the entire Jewish world is some families are not having children because they can’t afford tuition,” he said, highlighting the third issue. “It’s a terrible joke, that day school tuition is an excellent form of birth control.”

“Tuition has always been a consideration for parents,” confirmed Suri Davis, an estate lawyer in the Five Towns and owner and editor of “It has always been a drag on finances. It puts a great deal of pressure on families; it’s also a consideration for the children.” She explained that mothers don’t have the luxury of not working or only working part time, since they need the additional income to pay tuition.

“It’s also backing up into the grandparent level because they are being asked to assist the parents,” Davis observed. “It’s eating up retirement funds. It’s important to secure the financial future of the yeshivot, but as costs increase we can’t expect parents to provide the yearly costs of enhanced Jewish education...Jewish education is at the core of sustaining Orthodox Judaism, it’s vital, but the increased costs eat into core values of the Orthodox family which is quality time that parents want to have with the children.”

Hanus believes that the solution is for every community to form its own Superfund. “They have to undertake to fund all schools, all hashkafos, he explained. “It doesn’t stop when the youngest [child in the family] graduates. Frum and non-frum have to fund all hashkafos in the community.”

“The annual campaign runs the entire year; it is every Jew’s obligation to give,” added Hanus. “We are trying to get it all across the community without designation and distribute the money per capita to all schools. The concept is that nobody can say they are not giving because there is nowhere to hide. The Superfund states that our children are number one. It doesn’t distinguish between hashkafos. All Jewish children are entitled to get a Torah education.”

Chicago has raised $30 million in its endowment. Both Rabbi Avraham Levin, the Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe, and Rabbi Gedalyah Schwartz, the Av Bais Din of the Rabbinical Council of America, support it. “This is only the beginning,” predicted Hanus. “Use the natural political boundary to establish the Superfund in the community. Everyone should participate, the goal being free day school for all who seek it and a dignified living wage for all teachers. If every community did that, can any one imagine the extraordinary look of American Jewry across galus? The money is there, all you have to say is ‘we’re gonna do it.’ You don’t need a guy from Chicago to tell people in Great Neck how to do it. Every community should fund their own children’s education.”

“What good is Shabbos and Yom Kippur if we are allowing children not to be born because we are not funding Torah education?” questioned Hanus. “The number one priority of Jewish education must be funding chinuch; everything else is a distant second place.”