Today’s institutional landscape is changing rapidly. In their book The Networked Nonprofit, Beth Kanter and Allison Fine coined the phrase “do what you do best and network the rest” as a way for organizations to specialize, and also gain efficiencies by not needing to be all things to all people. Day schools have valuable assets—space, expertise, and educational resources. Conversely, congregations, which increasingly find themselves in the position of being educators, struggle in many of the same areas. How might day schools partner with synagogues to use their assets to educate children who are not enrolled in day school, creating efficiencies and, at least in some places, increasing quality?
A key part of the Jewish Day School affordability agenda involves leveraging community power to increase revenue and efficiencies.
Five particularly promising ideas are:
1. Outsource key services including facilities maintenance for multiple schools.
2. Purchase HR and benefit services through Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs).
3. Create and market leading edge STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs in collaboration with Israeli institutions and experts to enhance quality, build brand distinction, and grow enrollment.
4. Launch grassroots fundraising campaigns supported by all schools and synagogues a la NNJKids in Bergen County and Chicago’s Kehillah Fund.
5. Launch communal endowment programs with support from Federations, and guidance from experts, like PEJE.
It will take a village to help make day schools sustainable!
It is imperative that we provide accessible Jewish educational opportunities—both formal and experiential—for every child. As FJC works to confront affordability in our field, we are grateful for the initiative and leadership that PEJE has taken to bring this issue to the forefront of our community. Meeting this challenge necessitates collaboration and innovation across organizations. Our new “Nadiv” initiative—sharing senior experiential Jewish educators between camps and day or congregational schools—represents but one new but compelling effort. Working together with a variety of partners, we can ensure that strong, positive, and joyous Jewish educational experiences are available to everyone.
Based on data from hundreds of Jewish Day Schools, we think the focus will shift this year from Affordability to Perceived Quality. We recently finished analyzing our Jewish Day School Parent Survey data: 25,000 parent responses from 120 schools show that it is quality, not price, driving enrollment. The key to affordability is higher enrollment, since getting your enrollment up and attracting full payors will allow your school to provide more financial aid. It’s quality and value that drive word of mouth, which in turn drives enrollment. One idea is to cap enrollment to create a wait list: it stabilizes financials since your school can ensure you only open another section when you have enough students on the wait list to justify it; it ensures a sustainable, diverse balance of families; and it boosts your school’s perceived value by limiting access which increases its attractiveness.
In the coming year, “conventional wisdom” will likely be upended by data. As more schools enter their numbers into JData, PEJE, communities, and the schools themselves will be able to see: actual cost of delivering day school education to a child; changes in cost over time; variation in cost by school size, type, location, and other factors; the gap between cost and tuition revenue nationally and in particular markets; the relationship between tuition and enrollment; and more. With these data, we will finally be in a position to test conventional wisdom and make informed decisions about policy and practice.
We cannot close the day schools nor can we reduce the quality (the top-level education is crucial). We cannot ask for governmental money (as that jeopardizes our crucial commitment to freedom and to keeping religion and state separate). We cannot allow the schools to only be for the upper-middle class and upper class. There are three priorities: 1. Double the recruitment and enrollment to double this revenue and impact 2. Provide more need-based scholarships and prioritize them over merit-based scholarships 3. Improve the quality and impact of the education and convince major philanthropists of the return on investment.
Jewish day schools are an invaluable resource for their communities, but with tuition costs that average $15-$20,000, they are out of reach for many families. One path to affordability is to utilize better schools’ physical and academic resources, not only for the benefit of full-time students, but for all of a community’s Jewish children. The goal is to take advantage of a school’s expertise in teaching Judaics, Hebrew, and their integration with secular studies. Not only will such efforts generate revenue for schools and extra pay for teachers, but will enhance the case for schools’ support by the community.
As a rabbi and as a parent, I see the personal anguish that Jewish parents go through to afford the cost of Jewish day schools. As families and as a community, we have to work to make schools more efficient: fewer personnel with better salaries working harder but being rewarded for their productivity, and having several schools share facilities, faculty, and manpower. High tuition should prompt us to have high expectations—and these expectations will help our schools and their staff rise to the challenge. Let’s increase the quality of day schools by demanding we are getting our money’s worth.