There is no one solution to solving the “tuition conundrum.” In Greater MetroWest NJ, we have spent the last decade and a half supporting our day schools and will continue to seek ways to optimize our funding for maximum impact. Families and schools we work with will still tell you that affordability is a challenge, but that it is not a limiting factor to a quality Jewish day school education. Part of our success has been a multilayered approach to communal support for day schools over many years and trying new programs without the fear of failure. (Spoiler: We have failed a few times and have lived to tell the tale.)
A mix of remarkable philanthropy, excellent leadership and school collaborations have led us to a position of longstanding and successful affordability initiatives. Our community has become well known for our Tuition MAX middle-income affordability plan, which caps tuition at a reasonable percentage of income for families earning between $150,000 and $325,000. This is the foundation upon which we have based all supplemental affordability programs.
Thanks to the vision of the Paula and Jerry Gottesman Family Supporting Foundation and leading philanthropic families, we also have put smaller and more targeted programs in place. These include grants for families to move to Greater MetroWest and enroll in day school, and incentives for families to switch from public or private independent school. We have invested in legislative advocacy and teaching excellence and supported multiple other micro-grants over the years to allow the schools to offset tuition costs. These programs have strengthened all four schools in our area—Golda Och Academy, Gottesman RTW Academy, Jewish Educational Center/Bruriah/RTMA and the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy—and overall this support has stabilized enrollment communitywide.
Supporting Professionals Within Our Community
One particularly meaningful and impactful affordability program is our recently launched Jewish communal professionals grant. When schools reopened in 2020 and as our Covid-related funding priorities subsided, we asked how we could continue to support the affordability needs of our community by targeting more sub-groups within our community. Supporting the families of our communal professionals rose to the top as being among our clearest priorities.
JCP grants and discounts have been a feature of individual school budgets for decades, supporting clergy, teaching staff and occasionally communal professionals more broadly. This benefit is a tactic that our schools too have long used in varying ways.
In 2021, the Zalik foundation in Atlanta spearheaded a community initiative to support Jewish communal professionals who enroll their children in a Jewish high school. (See article in this issue.) This first-of-its kind award has contributed significantly to the field by showcasing the possibility that large-scale JCP grant programs offer.
In the fall of 2021, we rolled out our first tranche of grants to a very limited group. This funding awards Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Foundation employees with grants to local Jewish day schools. Unlike other JCP programs, families are first assessed by the schools for either scholarship or middle-income Tuition MAX grants, and some families pay full tuition. Once contracts are settled, the grants awarded through this program cover a portion of the family’s remaining responsibility. This grant does not cover the difference in cost between the full tuition cost and the family tuition obligation. Rather, this grant offers meaningful relief to these families for their portion of tuition beyond what the schools determine to be fair for that family. In the first two grant cycles, professionals were awarded up to $9,000 per family, based on number of children enrolled and part- or full-time working status. The application process is simple and straightforward, and our decision was to make the program not needs-based, which honors and respects our colleagues.
Jewish communal professionals are often underpaid sectorwide. Typically, they are actively engaged Jewishly, both in the professional and volunteer spheres. Supporting them honors our partner colleagues for their work in advancing Jewish causes and makes our schools more affordable for an important segment of the community. We are proud to offer this benefit to a hard-working group who collectively drive our mission forward, in reflection of the work that they do professionally and personally.
This grant reinforces the importance that our Day School Council (the leadership body who steward our communal day school dollars) sees in Jewish Communal Professionals being a valued cohort among day school families. We believe that affordability should not be a limiting factor to enrollment for JCPs. We intend to continue to support this cohort and promote day school enrollment within the organization.