Dan Perla, the Program Officer of Day School Finance at the AVI CHAI Foundation, has yet another pitch to fix the day school tuition problem. He cites a number of examples from the field where even middle to upper middle class families get a break on day school tuition to make Jewish education affordable. But… here comes the caveat:
All these programs are donor supported. Why would donors want to subsidize families making six figure incomes? The answer is simple. It makes good business sense. Losing middle and upper middle income families or failing to attract new ones has several negative consequences. Keeping seats filled and growing enrollment almost always leads to a positive economic outcome. Why? Because the marginal cost of adding a child to a class with an empty seat (which, in fact, is typically the case) is close to zero. So offering a family with three children a 30% or 40% reduction on their full tuition (through a middle income affordability program) still brings in a large amount of incremental dollars with little or no incremental cost. In fact, it is a well-established tenet of day school finance that stable or increasing enrollment almost always leads to greater long term financial sustainability.
So, all the success stories whereby day schools continue to keep Jewish families within the Jewish educational system are contingent on continued donor support. And there is good reason for donors to continue writing cheques… the return on investment is bla bla bla bla…
Though my eyes inexplicably glaze over with any talk of financials, the fact that they glaze over is a good indication why the pitch ultimately fails.
Have folks learned nothing at all from the 2008 Financial Crisis?
If we continue to look to donors of various calibers to ride into town and save us, then we shall continue to stand curbside with dumb bovine expressions (or glazed eyes) as we gape off into the horizon… waiting.
Or, to borrow from the current discourse seeking to displace the much-despised market-speak, the 99% cannot and should not look to the 1% to ascertain whether the community’s future (that’s 100%, y’all) is viable (or not). This is something we all need to solve together.