One of the most stressful, challenging, and frustrating aspects of the struggle to provide quality Jewish education for our children is the realization that no matter how much we value that education, and how much we truly desire to be able to pay what it truly costs, that desire, for many of us, is unattainable.
The price is simply too high. A family with four children needs upward of $80,000, after taxes, just for educational expenses. A family blessed with more children has even higher expenses. A family facing an employment setback or severe illness, even for a few months, might never recover to the point of paying the requested tuition.
We at the Builder School are aware of this reality, and we strive to keep costs as low as possible. The Builder School’s tuition is thousands of dollars lower than comparable day schools in New Jersey. Even the maximum tuition we charge per student does not cover the total expenses of educating that child. The generosity of our benefactors covers a large part of that gap.
And still, many families cannot shoulder even that burden. Many have to ask for assistance, a reduction, a scholarship, financial aid – whatever we call it, families are frustrated. They feel that no matter what they do, they cannot fulfill their full obligation and are forced to seek a handout.
Many are angry. Despite their best efforts and having two incomes, and despite earning well above the national income averages, they can not meet the cost of educating their children. The system is broken and the expectation is often unattainable; for so many, it is simply unrealistic.
Some families are too embarrassed to ask for assistance and instead deny themselves critical necessities in order to satisfy a tuition burden they should not be carrying.
And the families needing help still feel that they are being blamed, as if they are somehow not living up to communal expectations because they celebrated a birthday by eating out at the local pizza shop for example. They understand that extravagances are out of the question, yet they feel judged and therefore compelled to deny themselves the simple, small pleasures in life that so many of us take for granted.
They hear the scorn in the voices of some in shul and at school, and the condescending remarks about those on scholarship who are presumed to be gaming the system.
Yes, unfortunately, there is a very small group of outliers who are less than scrupulous. Some even pride themselves in cheating and taking tzedaka when they do not need it. That does not however, excuse the hurtful comments that put everyone who does not pay maximum tuition into the same category.
Many families struggle to pay their obligations, to push beyond even what they comfortably might afford, because they understand that they are receiving an education at less than full cost. But as we explained, that is true of everyone who sends a child to The Builder School. No one is asked to pay the full cost of their child’s education.
A Change in Philosophy
The embarrassment, pain, frustration, hopelessness and anger of the honest, struggling families has weighs heavily on our hearts. With the alleviation of those feelings as our goal, we are embarking on a new outlook on every family’s tuition obligation.
The Builder School will set a maximum tuition per student above which no one will be asked to pay. Families may ask for an assessment of their tuition fees based on their ability to pay. The school will set a rate crafted to each family’s individual circumstances.
Every family in the Builder School will be paying its full tuition obligation. Whatever amount the tuition rate is set at, that will be the family’s full and total obligation.
This approach is not a bill reduction. Instead, we will work with each family to assess how much it can pay. If a family does not want to enter into a discussion of assessment, it can pay the maximum tuition level, no questions asked.
Some might argue that the change is merely semantics. After all, different families will pay different amounts. That is certainly true. However, the different amounts represent the full obligation on that family. As long as their financial situation remains the same, there will never be an expectation that they will or should have to pay more, or an attitude that they are receiving a handout. Their tuition is indexed to their level of affordability.
In other schools, “scholarship parents” are denied certain benefits, such as attendance at the annual gala, because the journal obligation was one of the first reductions taken. That will not be the case at the Builder School. A family that pays its full obligation will enjoy all the benefits of being part of the Builder School family. Just as we would not deny a child membership in academic and sports teams based on tuition paid, we will not hold back any other benefits from families who pay their full obligation.
Families will never again have to feel out of place attending and sponsoring school or PTA functions, because they will be paying the entirety of their obligation to the Builder School.
This new outlook does not change in any way the expectation of scrupulous honesty on the part of families requesting an assessment of their financial index. Likewise, the Board of Trustees has established guidelines which the school must observe when reaching decisions.
A Challenge to the Community
Will we be perfect in implementing this new philosophy? We will certainly endeavor to be, but we are realists. We may, at times, slip up and talk about scholarships and tuition assistance. It will take time for the new nomenclature to take root. But the cultural attitude from our perspective will be immediate. From the very outset of the Builder School.
We challenge the entire day school movement, and by extension the communities in which we all live, to join us in changing the way we look at our friends and neighbors. They are people who work hard, who expend herculean efforts to support themselves and their children, who pay full tuition and who should not feel ashamed to eat out every so often as a break from the daily challenges they face.
We are prepared to make the change! Join us and help ease a crushing emotional burden from those who live near you, sit next to you in shul, or whose children are your children’s closest friends.
We invite you to help pioneer a significant paradigm shift towards greater chesed bein adam l’chavero (interpersonal kindness). Together we can be a shining example to other schools and communities with our new attitude of equality, respect and meaningful partnership.
We look forward to your embracing our new tuition philosophy and invite you to reach out with any questions or comments that you may have.