Tuition will be capped at all four Jewish day schools in the Greater MetroWest region beginning this year, thanks to a $10 million grant from the Gottesman Foundation.
The tuition cap program will be in place for 10 years. The cap will apply to all families meeting the criteria for middle-income families, with income ranging from $150,000 up to $325,000. Each school will set its own criteria.
The announcement makes the Greater MetroWest area among the first to guarantee tuition breaks across a community in a coordinated effort to make day schools more affordable.
The four schools are Golda Och Academy in West Orange, the Gottesman RTW Academyin Randolph, the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, and the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston.
The full price of tuition ranges from $12,500 to $17,500 for kindergarten and $19,000 to $28,500 at the high school level across all four schools.
The cap is just one part of a new 10-year program, named “Vision 2025,” being funded under the grant from the Paula and Jerry Gottesman Family Supporting Foundation of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Vision 2025 also includes new family incentives, professional development for teachers, and an effort to market the area to prospective day school families. The family incentives begin in fall 2016, when any new family moving to the area and enrolling a child in one of the day schools will receive a one-time incentive of $1,800.
“We are thrilled that the Gottesman family, which has pioneered middle income affordability not just in our community but for the whole nation, is now making this historic investment to ensure that everyone in our community has access to our outstanding day schools,” said Daniel Staffenberg, executive director of the JCF of GMW, whose three children will be enrolled at one of the schools this fall.
“This is part of our overall effort to make Jewish life more affordable in our community, and also to highlight the incredible educational offerings we have for young families,” said Dov Ben-Shimon, executive vice president/CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
The Gottesman Foundation was one of the first in the nation to initiate a day school tuition-capping program for middle-income families, founding such a program in 1998 at the then Hebrew Academy of Morris County (now Gottesman RTW Academy).
The program — and many others across the country that used their model — seeks to address the needs of families “squeezed in the middle”: those whose incomes fall above scholarship levels, but for whom the cost of Jewish day school education is still too much of a burden. The grants require less financial disclosure than traditional scholarship programs, in order to encourage more families to apply.
Currently, there are “five or six” different affordability strategies being implemented at about 30 schools across the country, according to a survey done by the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. In some cases, individual schools are working independently; in others, there is a coordinated effort across the whole community. Referring to the new Greater MetroWest initiative and increasing day school enrollment, Jim Blankstein, PEJE’s vice president of communications, said, “Opportunities like this one provide access, and accessibility is the key to the game.” He added, “We know the Gottesman model works in a single school. The real question now is how does it work across multiple schools in one community? Based on the results, we will know how it can be implemented in other communities.”
In an interview that appeared last winter in Hayidion, the journal of Ravsak, the community day school umbrella organization, Paula Gottesman urged a communal response to high tuition costs.
“Just as people pay taxes for public schools — and no one would say we shouldn’t do that — the Jewish community should tax itself for the education of our children. Our collective future should be the responsibility of the collective community,” she said.
She credits her husband, Jerry, a real estate and parking lot developer, with the idea to help middle-income parents at Gottesman RTW back in the mid-1990s, when one of his employees fell into “a big group in the middle that was not ‘needy,’ but day school education was just not within their budgets.”
Each of the four schools agreed to cap tuition at 18 percent or less of a family’s adjusted gross income, regardless of the number of children in the family.
Traditional scholarships for lower-income families will still be available at each of the schools.
In addition, each school individualized the program, based on the needs of its community (see sidebar).
“The goal was to have an across-the-board affordability guarantee for Greater MetroWest families, but also to give each school the ability to craft initiatives targeted to meet the needs of its own community,” said Steve Levy, vice chair of the Greater MetroWest Day School Council and a key planner of the Vision 2025 plan.
A consortium worked for more than a year to develop Vision 2025. It included staff and board members from the day schools, the GMW federation’s Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, the JCF of GMW, and the Day School Advisory Council — a leadership group under the aegis of the JCF that oversees a Community Day School Fund. A committee researched tuition programs and honed in on successful efforts created in recent years in Boston and Montreal.
In a Greater MetroWest survey of close to 500 parents, teachers, and students, the cost of day school education was most frequently cited as the greatest limiting factor to enrolling children in Jewish day school.
After several years of dipping enrollment following the 2008 financial crisis and demographic changes, enrollment at the Greater MetroWest day schools is on the rise for this year. The program aims to continue to build on these enrollment increases at all four schools, bucking a national trend toward declining enrollment in schools that are not strictly Orthodox.
The collaboration among the schools has helped the community to be selected for two major national programs aimed at growing day school enrollment.
All four schools in Greater MetroWest have been participating in “Atideinu: Our Future” run by PEJE in Boston with funding from the Avi Chai Foundation, to strengthen enrollment through enhancing recruitment and retention practices.
Greater MetroWest will become a pilot community for a national PJ Library Day School Engagement and Enrollment program, cosponsored by Avi Chai and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.
Tailoring the caps
EACH OF THE local day schools has implemented its own additional incentives as well as some exceptions to the qualifications under the day school tuition-capping program. Families will be assessed on an individual basis. Here are some highlights of the plans:
Gottesman RTW Academy: Tuition is capped at no more than 15 percent of a family’s adjusted gross income (AGI) for families with incomes of $90,000 to $250,000. In addition, families with a parent who is a Jewish communal professional will have their tuition capped at no more than 10 percent of AGI. New families — regardless of income and whether they are moving from another community — will receive a $1,000 per year incentive for the first two years of enrollment.
Golda Och Academy: Tuition is capped at 10-15 percent of AGI for families with incomes ranging from $150,000 to $325,000. Families with a qualified Jewish communal professional parent receive a $1,500 additional grant per family. “Bridge the Gap” grants will be offered to families with multiple children in the school who cannot afford minimum tuition.
Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School: Tuition is capped at 15-18 percent for families with incomes ranging from $150,000 to $275,000. In collaboration with area synagogues, the school has instituted a range of incentives for young families, independent of the Vision 2025 program, including discounts on synagogue membership for new enrollees.
Jewish Educational Center: Tuition is capped at 15-18 percent for families with incomes ranging from $150,000 to $275,000 from early childhood to 12th grade. An early childhood scholarship not based on need is available for families who are members of partner synagogues. The scholarship covers, on average, 35 percent of tuition. Families purchasing a home in Elizabeth or Hillside also receive a two-year, $5,000 tuition discount that may be used for any student in any grade.
Local schools to participate in PJ Library pilot
DAY SCHOOLS IN the Greater MetroWest area have been chosen as one of three cohorts in North America — the only one in the United States — to pilot a project leveraging the PJ Library to bring more families into day schools and increase enrollment.
The two-year program is sponsored by the Massachusetts-based Harold Grinspoon Foundation with a matching grant from the Avi Chai Foundation, and is matched locally with $36,000 by the Greater MetroWest Day School Community Fund.
The funding will pay for programs, marketing, and staffing stipends at each of the three schools, and coordination at the GMW federation’s Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life. PJ Library, a program of the Grinspoon Foundation, sends free Jewish books and music to families on a monthly basis. Currently 3,250 Greater MetroWest children are participating.
Golda Och Academy, Gottesman RTW Academy, and Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy will participate. The three schools will host a variety of programs throughout the year in an effort to bring families into their schools, from a Sunday morning drop-in program for young children, to holiday programs, to a concert featuring popular Jewish children’s singer ShirLaLa.