Observing that more and more grandparents are quietly paying their grandchildren’s Jewish day school tuition, UJA-Federation has announced a program under which grandparents can underwrite not only their grandchild’s Jewish education but those of other youngsters: at no additional cost.
"We really want to make what is happening more formal and to make it financially beneficial for grandparents," said Alisa Rubin Kurshan, executive director of Jewish Educational Planning and Continuity.
Grandparents who open a special trust with appreciated assets would not have to pay capital gains taxes on the asset and would also receive a charitable income tax deduction, according to Chuck Goldman, UJA-Federation’s group vice president for planned giving and endowment.
He said that, depending on the amount placed in the trust and the investment income derived, the interest generated might be enough to pay the entire tuition. Once the child graduates from high school, the principal remaining in the trust would create an endowment scholarship fund for other Jewish day school students. Kurshan said UJA-Federation would absorb all administrative expenses involved in setting up the trust. And she pointed out that those without grandchildren can "adopt a grandchild to make a statement about their belief in the power of Jewish day school education."
The announcement of the new program, called Eyt Livnot (Time to Build the Jewish Future), comes with the release of an 18-month study that recommended increased funding and an emphasis on quality at Jewish day schools across North America. The study was conducted by a 40-member committee composed of members of the United Jewish Communities and the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA). "We support the goal of affording every child the opportunity to attend a day school," said the committee’s chair, Bennett Yanowitz.
Rather than leaving it up to parents to foot the tuition bill, the task force recommended that Jewish federations take the lead in forging partnerships and coalitions with philanthropists, foundations, educational organizations and the Jewish movements to increase funding and boost academic excellence.
Rabbi Robert Abramson, director of education for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and a member of the committee, said that although federations have increased support for Jewish day schools in the last decade, "it has not been by quantum leaps and this [report] is a call for quantum leaps."
He said the Eyt Livnot project "sounds like an important step. The challenge for New York is that it has such a high percentage of Jewish kids that it has to seek creative solutions" to the funding problem.According to the study, there are more than 225 yeshivas and Jewish day schools in the New York area with an estimated budget of $1.25 billion to educate more than 100,000 students: compared with 36,000 in afternoon congregational schools. It said also that at least five of the schools are engaged in major capital campaigns seeking to raise $150 million.
George Hanus, a Chicago businessman and chairman of the National Jewish Day School Scholarship Committee, applauded the Eyt Livnot as another step in striving to provide a Jewish day school education for every child who wants it.
"There is an absolute communal responsibility" to provide it, said Hanus. "There has to be a recognition that the current system is providing an economic barrier of entry for all those who are not in the system. Unless you are Orthodox or very wealthy you are not going to go to day school unless the cost is brought down."
To help do that, his committee is calling upon every Jew to bequeath 5 percent of their estate to an endowment fund for their choice of Jewish education. And he has called upon every Jewish day school to create its own endowment fund.
Failure to act, said Hanus, will mean the loss of 1.5 million Jews to intermarriage and assimilation in the next decade.
Judith Stern Peck, chairman of the board of UJA-Federation, said the task force’s call for increased funding of Jewish day schools "is not news to those of us who have been involved in Jewish day schools a long time, but it is news in terms of it becoming institutionalized. Now the community at large is behind it."
Because of the finances involved in New York, Peck said it is impossible for UJA-Federation to subsidize every Jewish day school student. But she said the Eyt Livnot project and other efforts are a way to "leverage dollars" to reach that goal.
"We fund start-up Jewish day schools all the time, and the trust is a creative idea," she said. "We have to think about new and creative ways that we can be part of this movement towards making Jewish day school education available and accessible."
Billie Gold, chair of UJA-Federation’s Jewish Continuity Commission, pointed out that UJA-Federation also teamed up last year with 10 philanthropists and the Avi Chai Foundation to form the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. Each is contributing $300,000 over five years for such things as board development and teacher training.
"We’re also helping start-up schools to become excellent before they open," she said.
Jonathan Woocher, executive vice president of JESNA, said he hoped the study "awakened people to the notion that the success of day schools is tied both to adequate financial resources and to achieving a level of quality." He said the report’s call for the creation of a committee to continue working on this issue is recognition that "some continuing framework" is needed to implement the study’s proposals.
John Ruskay, UJA-Federation’s chief operating officer, said the report comes at a time when "new segments of the community are considering Jewish day school education. This should be applauded and UJA-Federation will continue to seek ways to support this important trend."