Jonathan Schreiber is an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program. He can be reached at email@example.com
I must be part zealot and part masochist.
A few months ago, I was listening to a phone message telling me our daughter had just been accepted to one of the most difficult magnet schools to gain admittance to in the Los Angeles Unified School District – and we turned it down..
When she was entering kindergarten, she also had a chance to go to a fantastic public school in the heart of Studio City, which we also turned down. So I’m kicking myself for that one, too.
Our daughter attends a well-known Jewish Day School in the San Fernando Valley. She’s thriving there. She is benefited by a tremendous amount of individual attention, as well as a bevy of enrichment and accelerated learning classes. She also feels part of a community – so much so that she’s joined the choir and leads Shacharit in the synagogue’s main sanctuary almost every Shabbat.
It’s not what we expected from our day school, but it is what we got. It’s phenomenal. It exceeds our every expectation.
But we’re like a lot of Jewish families at day schools. We hedge.
Each year we go through this complex process of gathering points to enter the public school system. It’s a game. You apply to a fantastic school that’s beyond oversubscribed with the hope that you’ll be rejected. That rejection allows you to bank 4 points. Once you gather 12 points, the maximum number you can acquire after being rejected for 3 straight years, you have a decent shot at getting into a magnet school.
The goal is to gather enough points so that when your children are ready to graduate from their Jewish day school, they can matriculate into a quality public school.
And this is all driven by skyrocketing tuition costs.
Jewish day school education is expensive. Nationally, tuition costs are rising at 11% each year. Since we have two kids in the school, we pay more than $32,000 annually for elementary school education. It’s actually closer to $39,000 if you include things like hot lunch, knickknacks, a gift to the annual campaign and synagogue dues. And that doesn’t even include afternoon care – or the summer day camps we need since my wife and I both work to afford Jewish schooling.
The public school we rejected – it actually goes all the way through high school. It’s one of the best in the state. We would have been done until college. Our decision – to reject this offer – made absolutely no financial sense.
Jewish community high schools in Los Angeles cost about $30,000 per child per year. And that’s without the extras I mentioned before.
I believe strongly in Jewish education. Heck, I even have a master’s degree in it. But committed as I am to it, I’m pretty certain the Jewish community has built an unsustainable educational model. And neither philanthropy nor scholarships can buy us out of this problem.
Will we be able to shoulder the burden of two kids (forget about having that third one) in a Jewish high school and then still pay for college? It’s uncertain. And $70,000 per year for two kids feels almost unattainable. Five or ten years from now, the costs will be even more stunning.
As a community, we need to begin asking ourselves whether the current Jewish day school education model is truly viable. Charter schools – public schools that operate on their own district-approved curricula – whether Hebrew immersion or Jewish culture based – are an option we must investigate. Muslim culture schools now exist in four states. This joins Alaskan, Hawaiian, and South American culture schools – plus a variety of foreign language immersion charter schools that are thriving all across the country.
According to a recent study by the Los Angeles Board of Jewish Education, the average family in Southern California needs to gross $276,000 annually to afford a house and two Jewish high school tuitions. When multiple families we know earning almost a quarter of a million dollars per year are struggling with, and seriously questioning the affordability of Jewish schools – we’re failing ourselves and our ability to keep our children engaged with Jewish learning on a daily basis.
A Hebrew immersion or Jewish culture charter school won’t be a private school education. And it won’t be a Jewish day school education. But it will provide another important option for the thousands of Jewish families who feel compelled to opt out of Jewish education completely, masochistic zealots included.