Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Looking at "Tell Me Why"

There are any number of approaches to take in argumentation. One such approach is the contrarian method. The person wishing to make an argument in favor of one position espouses the opposite position. Those who argue with him make the point he wanted to make without his being in the position of having to defend it. There is also a type of Socratic approach, which says ask questions such that the answers you are looking for will arise, again making your point for you.

So what point was being made in the posting and why? There has been discussion on this blog and on many other blogs about the high cost of yeshiva tuition. When all that is being argued about is cost, the general concensus is that yeshivas cost too much, that there must be a flaw in their spending, that they must be spending too much. The posting referred to said that tuition has risen more over a set period of time then other things have. I asked why. And I got answers. Suddenly we weren't arguing about the cost of tuition but about why and how tuition got to be that high. Many commenters pointed out that school days have gotten longer, that teachers are finally being paid more, that more services are being offered, that more extras are being offered, that basic school services have risen more than other services, that states are requiring more of schools, that more students are getting more tuition assistance. In short, what we now have is some data to use when discussing tuition.

The argument has re-created itself into one that is different from "schools are charging too much in tuition." If we can see that schools, as now constituted, are probably charging around what it costs them to educate the students who are in a school, then the discussion needs to be "What can we get rid of, reduce, reformulate to lower costs?" (One caveat here: schools would need to open their books so that we could, indeed, see if they are spending on the necessities.)

If sending our children to school for 6 days a week costs X, how much would sending them for only 5 days cost us? If an 11-12 hour school day costs X, how much would a nine hour day cost? What programs and what amenities could we trim that would result in a lowered tuition for parents?

I know, I know, right now someone out there is thinking to themselves that the yeshivas will never go for this. But the time is coming, and coming very soon, that yeshivas are not going to have any options but to cut. There is a limited amount of money in the pool of parents and donators. The more you raise tuition, the smaller that pool becomes. There simply won't be the money to maintain the status quo. And that is why we, all of us, need to think about this now. What would we be willing to do without in a school setting if the end result were a reduced tuition?

Let me give you one example. All students in New York City and New York State are entitled to certain services provided by the Board of Education, services like speech and hearing assessments and testing and remediation. Ditto for special education services. However, the Board of Ed will not send in their specialists into the religious schools--no mixing of church and state. They will, however, send those specialists into premises that are not part of the "religious" building. If a trailer is put into a courtyard of a yeshiva that would satisfy the Board of Ed, as long as the trailer is not used for regular school activities. So, the cost of one trailer versus the costs of hiring specialists and running special programs. It certainly is one area to look at. There are others.

So I was hoping that the discussion on school tuition would move out of the griping stage and into the "what can we actually do" stage. We've made a start by recognizing that it costs lots of money to educate our children today the way we are approaching that education. We've identified some of the reasons why that education costs what it costs. Now we need to go to the next step: what can we realistically cut down on and cut out?


Anonymous said...

There was one problem that wasn't adquately discussed in the posting. That is the amount of money a school takes in. They could open the books and show us clearly that their expenses equal the amount of money they have to charge us for tuition. But how many people are paying that tuition?

I pay full tuition for my kids already in school. How many others do? The key to reducing tuition payments is to ask what percentage of students are in school on reduced or no tuition. If 20, 30, 40 or 50 percent of the students aren't putting in the full tuition then it makes it more expensive for the rest of us. One way to cut down so that tuition can go down is to reduce the number of students who are getting assistance. I know that isn't going to be a popular idea with those who get the assistance but I can't afford to be educating someone elses kids anymore. Those parents are going to have to do what it takes to pay their own tuition.

Anonymous said...

And that brings up the gorilla in the room. Money and who has it and who doesn't. Is a jewish education just another product that people can buy if they want to and have the money to pay for it? If there is a value to Klal in having all the children educated in a Jewish school then shouldn't paying for that education be up there with other necessary things like rent and electricity? Shouldn't it come before luxuries? People in a community pay for things like a mikvah even if they never need to use it because the community needs it. So why isn't supporting a school something that a community needs to undertake instead of just counting on parents tuition?

Scraps said...

One point which another commenter brought up was that costs have risen because many/most schools are now in custom-built buildings, many of which are/were endowed but which still carry large mortgages that the schools continue to pay over the course of many years (adding a "building fund" fee on top of tuition). Granted, I'm not advocating schools moving out of buildings they're currently in, but for schools in the process of building or raising money to do so, is it really necessary to build the fanciest building on the block? Are the schools shopping around for contractors who will do good, solid work for a decent price, or are they giving the jobs to relatives and associates of important people in the school administration or on the school board? (Because we all know that nepotism is big, no way around that.) I know this isn't the biggest factor in tuition increases, but it's still something to consider.

Another point is one that was made by a guest poster on the Orthonomics blog, in response to certain comments: How many of us, whether parents or not, consider our local schools as a recipient of our tzedakah dollars? Maybe that is something we all need to think a little harder about, if we want universal Jewish education to be able to continue. I know that many years ago, there was a "Campaign 5%" that advocated that people should leave 5% of their assets to their local schools in their wills as a way of ensuring continuity of Jewish education. (Granted, at the rate we're going, no one is going to have that much to leave the schools anyway, what with grandparents being expected to pay their grandchildren's tuition, but it's an idea...)

The same guest poster and a number of commenters also pointed out that many families getting tuition assitance are living beyond their means, with little to no sense of what it means to budget and prioritize needs and wants. Maybe schools could start offering financial planning classes to parents as a service? If parents are able to plan better, they might find ways to pay more of the full rate of tuition on their own.

Anonymous said...

Jake, the real gorilla in the room is family size. No one wants to talk about it, everybody looks at you like you are crazy if you bring it up but the plain fact is that people who can't afford them should not be having so many children. You owe your children a lot more then just giving birth to them. It's not just that the last generation paid less for things then we do. It's that they didn't have more children then they had the money for. Not the case today. Until we can openly discuss this there won't be any solution to the tuition problem or to any of the financial problems faced by the frum community.

Orthonomics said...

No doubt there is a gorilla in the living room and that he has been hanging around for a long time. I was going to bring it up in the comments elsewhere, but refrained. I am aware that there are small families paying much more in tuition than families 3 and 4 times the size. My own observation tells me that (religiously comparable) families being squeezed for every penny aren't the same families growing at an exponential rate.

Regarding Jake's comment: I do believe that tuition takes a high priority in most family's budgets and to say otherwise is an indictment of possibly the majority of families.

You say that tuition should be put on the same level as electricity. But, you can control your electric bill by taking fairly simple steps. Unfortunately, tuition is a bill that is basically out of your control. You can't pick and choose which services you will take and which you will leave. I know parents who spend more on uniforms for their girls than they would ever spend on an outfit for their daughters, yet they can't tell the school they are sending their kids without a uniform. In some schools buying school lunch at $50 a month per kid is a requirement. A family whose children are enrolled in this school can make sure to be extra careful with their own food budget by limiting meat and dairy products, yet they have to pay for products they might choose not to pay for if they could pack their children's lunch by themselves.

I walk around my own home turning off lights and am constantly adjusting heating and air conditioning. In my own home I have some control. I've got little to none in the local schools. (And yes, there are nights when I drive by and see the place lit up like a tree and wouldn't mind doing in and switching off the lights and donating a small lamp for the few guys there at 11PM).

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure Sephardi Lady that most families consider the money for tuition right up there with utilities. For one thing, you have no choice with utilities. There is one provider in your area, you have no choices of where to get your utilities from, there is no bargaining with the utility for lower prices because you have more people in your house using the service of the utilities. Those families may think of tuition as being very important but they have a lot of wiggle room, including telling their parents to pay and asking for tuition assitance. And they also frequently complain that paying tuition keeps them from doing other things that they want to do that they should be allowed to do. I can't remember ever hearing someone complaining that paying the electric bill is keeping them from dressing the way they want to.

Orthonomics said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Orthonomics said...

My uitlities average no more than $300 a month, probably lower but I'm not in my budget spreadsheet right now. Tuition for a family of 3 will run over $3000 a month.

Unless you hit really low income, there is no wiggle room with the utilities. Same for tuition in my OOT community. I may have more than one provider, but each provider charges just about the same amount. And if I'm not receiving a reduction or relying on my family, unlike the utility bill, I can't reduce the tuition by drying my laundry on the line or turning the heat down.