Group seeks $40 billion for Jewish day schools

PHILADELPHIA —The Endowment Fund for School Choice announced that it wants to raise $40 billion for Jewish day schools — yes, the “b” in front of  “illion” is accurate.

The East Windsor, N.J.-based organization came about from concerned parents struggling with the financial instability of sending their children to Jewish day schools.

“We’re all parents of children who have gone through Jewish day schools,” said Aaron Sears, president of the Endowment Fund. “We know firsthand the incredible challenge for parents to self-fund their children’s education.

“The only proven method of keeping Jewish children in the fold is the Jewish day schools,” he added. “Birthright Israel and all the other methods have proven not to be successful. So what we’re trying to do is direct our monies where there’s a potential for success, and we think that’s in the Jewish day schools.”

Sears and many others on the board had similar thoughts, so they started fundraising in mid-June.
So far, they’ve acquired about $5,000 — .0000125 percent of their goal.

However, that goal has no impending deadline.

The fund — a registered 501(c)(3) and tax exempt — is perpetual, and Sears said they’ll be reaching out to friends, families, philanthropists and others through social media.

The organization also is completely volunteer-based.

“We’re all professionals in the business and computer backgrounds. We don’t plan on hiring anyone. The game plan is for 100 percent of the monies and dividends to either go to the Endowment Fund or to go to the schools for scholarships,” Sears said.

According to a study by the Avi Chai Foundation, “Census of Jewish Day Schools in the U.S.,” which the Endowment Fund cited, there were 234,000 Jewish students in grades K-12 during the 2013-14 school year.
Rounding up to 240,000 and providing each student with a $10,000-per-year voucher — which offsets the cost of tuition — totals $2.4 billion per year.

In order to regenerate that, “and figure the fund can earn 6 percent in high-yielding REITS and corporate bonds, we would need a principal of $40 billion,” Sears added.

Avi Chai declined to be interviewed for this story.
It’s difficult to account for the exact amounts every child may need — the average cost of tuition is $15,000 per year — but the voucher would cover most, if not all, of their tuition fees.

Sears said he always paid 100 percent of his children’s tuitions but realizes that’s not the case for every parent.

“Jewish day schools are at a funding disadvantage to the public schools because they get little or no government support,” he said. “The parents sending their children to Jewish day schools are usually only of average economic means, so the schools don’t have the resources to pay the staff adequately.”

Many local Jewish day schools have tuition rates well above the average.

Tuition at Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax is $19,920 per child for all grades. There’s a 10 percent discount per additional child with a three-child minimum.

The Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville charges $15,310 per child in grades K-5, $18,850 in grades 6-8 and $22,375 in grades 9-12.

At the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, K-5 tuition is $24,810, 6-11 is $31,820, and the first semester of 12 is $16,270.

Tuition at the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital in Washington is $23,860 for all grades.
And tuition at the Torah School of Greater Washington in Silver Spring is $14,765 for all grades.

All of the schools in the area offer financial aid to those in need.

Across the nation, the budget for the 2017 fiscal year of the U.S. Department of Education totals $69.4 billion, serving “nearly 16,900 school districts and approximately 50 million students attending more than 98,000 public schools and 28,000 private schools.”

Paul Bernstein, CEO of PRIZMAH: Center for Jewish Day Schools, a conglomerate organization based on five others (PARDES, PEJE, RAVSAK, Schechter and YUSP), said PRIZMAH is trying to serve the entire day school field in a unified way.

Through a program called Generations, as a part of PEJE at the time, about $100 million for 65 schools over the last five years was raised.

As far as the Endowment Fund’s goals, he welcomes it.

“We welcome any initiative that serves the day school field,” he added. “One of the really important things in creating PRIZMAH is to be able to serve across denominations. This kind of initiative is important for the whole community, and we welcome anyone who is trying to do that.

“We would encourage anyone who can enable more kids to be able to afford to go to day schools and have that opportunity.”

The Endowment Fund will start tending to schools in New York and New Jersey, but Sears hopes to expand across the country as the fund grows.

So far, Sears said the fund has received many positive reactions, and though he has no immediate goals, he believes the money will come through over time.

“As the money comes in, we’re going to invest and put out vouchers. But as far as so much by such date, we don’t have any goals like that established.

“Colleges have multibillion dollar endowment funds — individual colleges like Princeton and Yale have raised multibillion dollar endowment funds — and even private high schools in Connecticut have multibillion dollar endowments. So we definitely think that an endowment fund is feasible.” n

WJW Political Reporter Daniel Schere contributed to this article.

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