It's best for our communities to support our day schools
In the Feb. 3, 2017, edition of the Heritage, Abigail Pickus gives a detailed argument in favor of expanding government support of Jewish days schools. While I certainly understand the source of this desire of additional funding I am not sure that in the long term it will service the Jewish community as envisioned. I should note that the assumption of the article that this is only an issue for the Orthodox Community alone is not correct. While certainly the percentage of Orthodox Jews sending their children to Jewish day schools is greater than the rest of the community, there are many non-Orthodox Jews who desire a high quality Jewish education for their children. My family is a very strong supporter of Jewish day schools. All three of our daughters went to the Jewish day school in the community where we lived up north for both elementary and high school. They also went to Jewish summer camps. As I get ready to retire and consider how much larger our retirement nest egg would be if we did not have these additional costs in addition to college, I do not for once regret the choice my wife and I made. Two of our daughters have their master’s degrees in Jewish day school education and both taught Judaica in the day school in their respective areas, and one is currently the principal of the Solomon Schechter School where she lives. Eight of our 10 grandchildren either attend or have already graduated from the day school in their area, while the other two are still below school age. We have always supported the day schools financially in the area where we lived even if we did not have any children or relatives attending.
Clearly I am very dedicated to Jewish day school education not only for my family, but for as many families in the local community that we can get to enroll. However, I am very worried about many of the unforeseen consequences of government support of not only religious, but basically private education in general. I have three major concerns.
First, the concept of “separation of church and state” has served the Jewish community in America very well. I would approach anything that weakens this concept with caution, and having public tax funding for religious schools is opening up Pandora’s Box and could very well weaken this wall.
Second, while it is true that in some cases individual schools in some communities may come out ahead, I suspect that in general the Jewish community will lose out. I am not a person with a financial or economic background, and I do not have the actual financial figures handy, but I suspect that since the Jewish community in general tends to be above average financially, the total number of the tax dollars collected from the Jewish community going to private and religious educational institutions will be significantly greater than the dollars actually going back to support Jewish educational institutions. As a community we would be much better off supporting those who are struggling to send their children to Jewish day school philanthropically than having to support private and religious educational institutions in general through our taxes.
Third and finally, we are kidding ourselves if we suspect that the additional funding for private and religious school support with public funds will be funded by additional taxes. It will for the most part be funded by taking funds away from the public school systems, which in many areas are also struggling financially. While I would encourage every Jewish parent to at least consider sending their children to a Jewish day school, I realize that not all will. Even more so, as citizens of the United States, we desire to insure that all children where we live receive a quality education. It does the Jewish community no good in the long term if our children are well educated, but if those of the general society are not. If this were to occur, the U.S. would slowly lose its edge of a high standard of living as compared with the rest of the world. Thus as Jews we need to financially support our communities’ day schools through philanthropic support, both as individuals as well as from the community as a whole such as support by local Federations and other Jewish Philanthropic institutions, and to support our public education system through our taxes and to insist that they be world class educational institutions. To do otherwise is to do disservice to the Jewish community, and to the general community in which we live.
Edward E. A. Bromberg