Monday, July 25, 2005

Jewish tuition just doesn't add up

Everyone's talking about the high cost of Jewish education in the United States. I confess I don't know much about the economics of Jewish schooling, but as a self-appointed Jewish blogger that shouldn't stop me from discussing it.

Reliable sources tell me of Jewish day schools charging $12,000 a student - for first grade! Try as I might, I can't understand how it can be so expensive to teach children.

A thought experiment: Imagine 25 families with first-graders. Say they hire a full-time teacher for a generous $50,000 a year. Add a teacher's aide at $25,000. Including benefits, payroll costs should be around $100K, or $4,000 per student. Add to that the cost of renting a classroom, books, crayons, photocopying and some administrative overhead. Oh, and a playground for recess. It would be hard to get to $6,000 a student, let alone $12,000.

What am I missing here? I admit I've never run a school, but I don't see where all that money can be going. State accreditation inspections? Chocolate milk? Mountain retreats for curriculum development?

It's no wonder more and more Orthodox families are homeschooling - or just having fewer children. It's either that or make aliyah, nebekh!


Soccer Dad said...

$6000 is probably more like it. Well Day Schools, I think, have added a bit more bureaucracy since we attended them. Lots of families do not pay full tuition. Those who do are subsidizing the many who don't. I'm sure that there's plenty of waste given that these schools are not necessarily known for being so generous with their staffs either.

Ron Coleman said...

Location, location, location.

The cost of real estate, especially in communities without legacy edifices, is gigantic. Even those with buildings have to keep them up to code, expand them, and keep them up to date. In Passaic we have spent millions on buildings, and while they are nice facilities, they are not deluxe. Paying the service on the debt for our bricks and mortars is a big part of our tuition bill.

You also don't hire one full time teacher. Limudei khol teachers and limudei kodesh teachers are different people. A morning rebbi has to make a living wage, but that doesn't qualify him to teach math. In the upper grades this tends to become an issue. So does the fact that in haredi and yeshivish schools, boys and girls are separated after pre-school: More classrooms, more teachers, more everything needed for the same 25 kids.

Anyway, your match on moving from your theoretical $4000 to "hard to get to $6000" is kind of inexact, ain' it? You really have to wrestle with those numbers -- as well as the numbers for other things -- liability insurance, computers, all the fine details of "administrative overhead," a school nurse ... it adds up!

Zman Biur said...

My math inexact? How dare you!

Seriously, though, I can see the real estate argument.

Clearly, also, to the extent average class size falls, average costs rise. Separate classes aggravate this.

I don't accept the full-time/part-time point, though. A rebbi has to make a living wage, but not for half a day's work. Presumably he works elsewhere (another grade or another school) the other half of the day. One class of students should still require an average of one full-time teaching position, even if in practice many teachers share those hours.