By: Dr. Susan Kardos
Eight years ago, AVI CHAI began a concerted grantmaking effort in the area of day school finance, seeking to help schools shore up sustainability and improve affordability for parents. Given the scope of the problem—hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition shortfalls annually—we knew that it would be impossible to generate one strategy that would “solve” the affordability and sustainability problems. We also knew that the financial strain is especially tough for schools with decreasing enrollments and thus shrinking tuition revenue. Since then, our operating partners in the field have enabled us to shape a grant portfolio comprised of a comprehensive suite of programs that address the major areas of JDS affordability and sustainability. As we and our partners have experimented and learned, some initial programs have gone through radical changes, some have been reshaped along the edges, and some experiments have led us and our partners to dive in more deeply, change course, or abandon an effort.
We invest in programs related to student recruitment and retention, school fundraising, endowment building, government funding, and R&D. The emphasis of our work reflects our sense of where there is the most reasonable and productive short-term and long-term promise. Most immediately, the “holy grail” for Jewish day school affordability and sustainability is (a) increased enrollment to fill empty seats and (b) government funding. In the longer term, endowments offer the promise of an additional, reliable revenue stream for schools.
Thus, we feature 3 efforts in this newsletter: The Atidenu program to increase enrollment; the Generations program to increase school endowments; and our government funding initiatives. Atidenu and Generations are programs ably delivered and managed by Prizmah. Both programs seek to build capacity at the school site to improve either their recruitment and retention efforts or their endowment building efforts. They offer intensive training and ongoing coaching over an extended period of time. In terms of government funding, AVI CHAI has provided general operating support toward two organizations that advocate for greater government support for private school education: (1) The Invest in Education Foundation, which promotes scholarship tax credits for individuals and corporations that fund scholarships for private school students, and (2) the Orthodox Union, which works to expand existing NY State funding programs for private schools and introduce a variety of new programs.
Have you and/or your school been influenced by these or other efforts to improve the affordability of Jewish day school education? What lessons have you learned?