Leaders from six Jewish day schools in South Florida recently convened to discuss the historic school choice expansion that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law on March 27. The new law expands scholarships to all K-12 students in the state and will give approximately $8,000 per student. This could bring as much as $40 million of new funds into Jewish day schools, which will help alleviate South Florida families who are struggling with the private school tuition crisis.
One concern shared by many parents is that the influx of these funds will cause schools to raise tuition by $8,000, which would negate the affordability factor.
To address this issue, representatives from Jewish day schools met in a small focus group with staff members and the executive committee from Teach Florida, a project of the Orthodox Union, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization. The schools strongly affirmed that affordability is a critical component of their educational mission and will remain a key focus for them moving forward.
“Affordability is an important value of our schools,” says Teach Florida engagement director Melissa Glaser. “They don’t intend to take the state funds and then turn around and increase tuition by an equivalent amount. The schools recognize the value of affordability, and their goal is to support families receiving much-needed relief funds towards tuition, while providing a quality education to their students.”
Rabbi Bernstein of Toras Emes agrees, saying “over the last decade, we raised tuition very minimally as we value affordable education for our families. This year, before learning of the school choice bill, we made the decision to raise tuition due to incredible hiring challenges and inflationary costs.”
He adds that “we fully support the fact that school-choice funds are intended as a relief for parents and will not be viewed as an extra entitlement for the school.”
Another school, Brauser Maimonides Academy (BMA), only raised tuition minimally in the last 10 years in order to accommodate inflation as well. For the past two years, BMA’s payroll increased by 15%, yet tuition increased only nominally, understanding that many families would not be able to make such a significant tuition leap within a relatively short period. Day schools will continue to adjust tuition through the lens of economical necessities while keeping their families’ needs a top priority.
Danny Aqua, executive director of Teach Florida, says “we’ve heard from many parents regarding the relief they have felt from the scholarship program and the impending expansion next year. Teach Florida is committed to partnering with Jewish day schools to ensure that future changes will keep families at the forefront of their decisions.”
The issue is not just limited to families, as day schools are also struggling financially. But even while facing parallel issues of their own with inflation and increased property insurance, school administrators are hastening to reassure families that tuition increases will continue to be minimal and are committed to keeping Jewish education affordable.
“Teach Florida is working with day schools on limiting tuition increases and helping them do what is necessary to complete their mission—educating the next generation,” says its chairman, Dr. Allan Jacob.
Looking ahead, Teach Florida is working to find additional solutions to mitigate the cost of tuition even more, such as alternative ways to supplement busing and provide additional support for students with unique abilities.
As Jacob concludes, “With everybody working together on Jewish education, I am confident that we will find solutions to these challenges very soon, as a range of new educational options emerges to fit the needs of incoming Jewish families in South Florida.”
The focus group included Teach Florida staff members Aqua, Melissa Glaser and Malka Kownat-Rhodes, as well as executive committee board members Jacob, Steve Jacoby, Yossi Rosengarten, Dan Adler and Shlomo Lobell. School representatives included Eli Hagler and Michelle Moses (Brauser Maimonides Academy), Rabbi Deon Nathan (Katz Hillel Day School), Shimmie Kaminetsky (Katz Yeshiva High School), Rabbi Shloime Denburg (Lubavitch Hebrew Academy), Rabbi Moshe Bernstein (Yeshiva Toras Chaim Toras Emes) and Joe Sharp (Jewish Leadership Academy).
Moving forward, the initial group will expand to include more schools for this collaborative effort.