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 Academy in 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.