NEW YORK – Each year, when Frank Halper is faced with the state tax bill
for his accounting business in Providence, Rhode Island, he has a
He can write a check for the amount owed by his company or, as
part of a state tax credit program, he can send a check to a foundation that
provides tuition scholarships to students at Providence’s two Jewish day
schools. His tax bill will be credited for 90 percent of the
For the last five years or so, his firm has opted for the
“We’re in favor of supporting these schools,” Halper
said. “We feel Jewish education is the future of the Jewish
Tax credit programs are among the growing number of ways that
private Jewish day schools and yeshivot across the US are corralling hundreds of
millions of dollars of taxpayer dollars annually. The money is helping to defray
operating costs, provide teacher training, assist students with tuition bills
and enhance educational offerings.
A decade ago, few Jewish schools were
aggressive about pursuing federal and state funding. But as day school tuition
rates have climbed, outpacing inflation and the ability of recession-weary
parents to pay, schools have become much more effective not only at accessing
government money but in lobbying state government for more.
financial crisis of 2008 had a huge effect on tuition and affordability – I
think that was really the game changer,” said Darcy Hirsh, director of day
school advocacy at UJAFederation of New York, which in October 2011 became the
first federation in the country to create a position for day school advocacy.
“Families that were able to afford day school are no longer able, and schools’
financial aid has grown tremendously over the last five years.”
haredi Agudath Israel of America long has taken the lead in lobbying for
government aid for Jewish schools.
Two years ago it was joined by the
Orthodox Union, which began hiring political directors in a half-dozen states to
organize Jewish schools and lobby legislators.
While media attention has
focused on the alleged abuse of government funding programs by Jewish schools,
suspect allocations represent just a trickle of the government funding flowing
to Jewish schools.
The methods used by private schools to get government
money differ from state to state and range from the complex to the
In Rhode Island, the tuition scholarship tax credit, which is
available to families with incomes of less than 250 percent of the federal
poverty level, is capped at $1 million statewide and open only to corporate
donors. The credit is calculated at 75% for a single year and 90% if they donate
for two, up to a maximum of $100,000 annually. The statewide cap is usually
reached annually on July 1, the first day applications may be
In Florida, a similar program last year was capped at
In New York, a lobbying effort two years ago resulted in
legislation extending an exemption from a transportation payroll tax of 0.34% to
private and religious schools – a seemingly small change, but one that saved an
estimated $8m. per year.
“Figuring out how to do better at this is going
to be one of the big keys to the whole tuition crisis,” said Rabbi Binyamin
Krauss, principal of SAR Academy, a large Jewish day school in Riverdale, New
York, where tuition and fees can run as high as $30,800 a year. “We’re looking
to provide a quality education, Jewish and secular, and I think the solution
will have to be to increase revenues. Government funding is going to need to be
a major piece.”
Like many Jewish schools, SAR has dedicated staffers
whose job is to garner the government funds. They range from reimbursement for
administering state exams and taking students’ attendance – state-mandated tasks
for which New York Jewish schools received $42m. last year – to funds for
security programs, textbooks, busing, health services, computer software,
teacher training and small-group tutoring in various subjects.
the new advocacy effort is a shift in attitude among some mainstream Jewish
organizations. Jewish federations, which once opposed government funding for
parochial schools, are now trying to secure government support for them. Both
the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the American Jewish Committee are
reconsidering their long-held opposition to such funding.
Jewish community has moved much closer to our side on this issue over the last
few years,” said Rabbi A.D.
Motzen, national director of state relations
for Agudath Israel, which has been lobbying for government money for parochial
schools since the 1960s.
In addition to financial pressures, a few other
factors have fueled the day school advocacy effort.
The growing momentum
of the so-called school choice movement, which aims to give parents more control
over where and how their kids are educated on the government’s dime, has helped
create more favorable conditions for private school funding. A landmark Supreme
Court decision in 2002 upholding parental rights to use government tuition
vouchers at private religious schools helped pave the way for voucher and
tuition tax credit programs in 23 states.
But these programs are not
available in many of the states with the biggest Jewish day school populations,
including New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois and
Two notable exceptions are Florida and
After the Rhode Island program began in 2006, Providence’s
two Jewish day schools were able to get nearly $400,000 of the $1m. pot. As
awareness has grown, their share has fallen to about $270,000 – still a
respectable sum in a state where Jews account for less than 2% of the
“By and large we’ve done fairly well in getting what we can,”
said Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman, dean of the Providence Hebrew Day School. “With
all these things, you have to know what’s coming to you and be on top of that.”