Across the United States, the Jewish day school movement has faced a financial crisis. Since the worldwide economic downturn that began in 2008, families from all backgrounds have suffered job loss, reduced incomes, and financial uncertainty. And this has occurred at a time when day school tuition costs in many communities have soared to tens of thousands of dollars annually, even as a number of Jewish community agencies have lost much of their philanthropic donor base.
Parents, rabbis, and educators throughout the national Jewish community have pointed to the fact that even the best education in a secular school cannot provide the vital instruction in Jewish values and history that promotes continuity from one generation to the next. Yet, some informed observers have commented that the traditional day school model valued for generations may have broken. Journalists have recently written articles decrying the fact that, for many Jewish American families, a high-quality day school education has become financially beyond their reach. Shortly after the 2008 recession, the nonprofit group Northern New Jersey Jewish Education for Generations declared the current day school funding model obsolete and unsustainable, and called for a much broader range of community support.
In Chicago, a forward-thinking model of endowment funding has fought these trends for nearly a decade. After its 2006 revamping with a “front-loading” model drawing on long-range commitments from major donors, that community’s has proven its sustainability. In 2015 alone, the fund was able to offer nearly $1.7 million to its 16 partner day schools.