The Values, And Value, Of Day School Education

May 20, 2009

Source: The Jewish Week 


In an opinion piece in The Jewish Week, Yosi Prager, executive North American director of The Avi Chai Foundation, joined the public debate about day school tuition in the face of the global economic crisis. He suggests that instead of conceiving day school education as an economic proposition we view it as a value proposition. He argues that day schools are a critical Jewish value proposition, which strive to insure that young Jews have the textual skills, religious enculturation and commitment to the Jewish people to enable their graduates to be active participants – and often leaders — in Jewish life. In order to help continue to finance day schools throughout the US, he urges Jewish organizations to focus energies on advocating government support of the secular side of day school education.


Prager notes the irreplaceable contribution that day schools make to cultivating Jewish identity. He argues that "the more deeply children understand our rich tradition on its own terms (ideally in Hebrew, its own language) the more that the meaning they draw from the Torah becomes a part of who they are. Toward this end, day schools immerse students in intensive study of the great texts of the Jewish civilization…. As these students mature and continue on to college and adulthood, the rich Jewish identities developed in day schools help them integrate distinctive Jewish thinking into a larger American culture also in search of meaning and guidance."

Prager does not mean to make light of the economic pressures faced by education administrators and parents. He calls for the schools to strive to be affordable economic propositions and undertake "serious thinking to create economies of scale to help schools succeed in a fiscally responsible fashion. Effective use of technology, collaborations among day schools that lead to cost savings and attracting new philanthropists to the cause should all be near the top of the priority list for day school leaders."

Among the immediate steps that should be taken to help lower the costs of day school education, Prager calls for focusing political clout to lobby for the kinds of government aid for the secular day school activities that are already constitutionally permitted. Tax credits, for example, are unquestionably constitutional, as is government funding for textbooks, computers, busing, nursing and other secular services as well as reimbursement for testing and attendance taking. Success in this effort could lower day school tuition considerably.

Updated: May. 27, 2009