Jewish leaders in Middlesex County have launched a multi-pronged effort to promote day schools and make them more affordable.
Based in Highland Park, Central New Jersey Kehilot Investing in Day Schools Inc. has partnered with three local schools to find a solution to what is becoming a crisis of rising tuition. The new nonprofit aims to create an endowment fund to provide tuition assistance and increase cooperation among the schools.
While each participating school has its own scholarship fund, CNJKIDS founding board president Joshua Fine said the idea was to create a communal fund encouraging tax-deductible “investments” in the community’s future.
According to its website, “Donors will be given the opportunity to choose whether to make a general contribution that will be distributed per capita to all day schools partnering with CNJKIDS or to earmark their donations to a specific school or schools.” CNJKIDS will divide its annual income on a per-capita basis among the schools, which will then pass on the savings to parents.
Yearly tuition costs between $13,000 and $16,000, depending on grade level, at the three participating schools: the Orthodox Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva and Netivot Montessori Yeshiva, both in Edison, and the Conservative Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley in East Brunswick.
The “day school community is tapped out,” said Fine, also an RPRY board member.
While Fine said it “was not a silver bullet by any means,” the fund would help mitigate costs.
CNJKIDS will also promote K-eight day school. Fine cited studies showing that children who attend day schools have lower rates of intermarriage and are more likely to join synagogues, be strong supporters of Israel, and take leadership roles in the community.
Fine said that Middlesex would become the sixth community in North America to establish such a fund. Others are Pittsburgh, Montreal, Chicago, and, in New Jersey, Bergen County and Greater MetroWest (chiefly Essex, Morris, and Union counties).
Representatives from the three schools and a board of lay leaders will work with communal leaders and local and national organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County and the Avi Chai Foundation, “to establish broad-based communal support to develop long-term transformational solutions.”
Fine said an agreement has been signed with Avi Chai to provide funding, while CNJKIDS has also partnered with federation through its Create a Jewish Legacy program to manage CNJKIDS bequests and endowments in accounts overseen by its Jewish community foundation.
The fund was initiated by Rabbi Ronald Schwarzberg, the former religious leader at Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park, who is a board member at RPRY and director of Jewish career guidance and placement at Yeshiva University. He is serving as chair of the CNJKIDS advisory board.
“The costs of a Jewish education have become a terrible burden on our parents,” said Schwarzberg. “Many parents are at the breaking point, and it’s heartbreaking that parents have to choose between keeping a roof over their heads or giving a child a Jewish education.
“I think the responsibility for Jewish education should rest not on parents, but on the whole community,” Schwarzberg added.
Netivot head of school Rivky Ross said she hoped that by raising awareness of the educational and communal benefits of day schools, the fund will boost enrollment in the short term and “in the long term have a significant effect on the ability of parents to decide on a day school education for their children.”
Rabbi Stuart Saposh, Schechter’s head of school, called it “a noble pursuit for those who care about the Jewish community and the Jewish future.”
Saposh said he envisioned the fund as helping to increase a sense of community between public school and day school families and across generations and denominational lines.
CNJKIDS “will raise the profile of day schools,” said Saposh. “I’m not sure in the larger community, if you don’t have children or know someone who has children in day schools, you realize what wonderful institutions of learning they are.”
Saposh also looked forward to a forum for the day schools to collaborate on cost saving, curriculum development, professional services, or community-wide events.
“We each have our own wisdom, as it were, and we can be helpful and supportive and share with each other,” he said. “We should not be in competition with each other, but rather supporting each other and viewing each other in a collegial fashion.”
For more information, go to cnjkids.org.