Home / Opinions / LocalRSS Feed
Why not provide free day school education here?
December 30th, 2005
On Nov. 11, an anonymous group of philanthropists in Kalamazoo, Mich., launched a new, unique program called The Kalamazoo Promise.
They endowed enough money to provide a scholarship covering up to 100 percent of the cost of a four-year college education to each child graduating from the Kalamazoo public school system for at least the next 13 years.
Parents, as could be expected, were ecstatic at this financial windfall. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and local officials spoke about the new opportunities and brighter futures awaiting students because of the gift.
But the projected benefits werent only for the children. Potential wide- ranging benefits to the community were the talk of the town.
There is no doubt in my mind that this will spur housing sales, attract new business development, and add to an already solid quality of life in Kalamazoo, said Janice Brown, superintendent of Kalamazoos schools, when she made the announcement.
Mayor Robert Jones said the deal is going to take Kalamazoo to another level in the quality of life attracting new people to the various industries that we have in the city.
The anonymous donors themselves are reportedly interested in improving the economic strength and quality of life in the city. Promising students a college scholarship is the means, not itself the goal.
All this got me thinking. What if the Milwaukee Jewish community made a similar promise?
What if that community pledged to provide every Jewish child in our metropolitan area
with a Jewish day school education at no charge?
Consider the benefits
Before this idea is dismissed due to cost, consider the benefits. First, more Milwaukee families would send their children to day school.
While we do have a generous scholarship fund, financial headaches are still a reason why many Jewish children remain in public schools.
Since day school attendance is a major factor in determining adult Jewish affiliation, this promise would then enhance the prospects for more local children to grow up to become active members of the Jewish community.
The 2000-2001 United Jewish Communities National Jewish Population Survey demonstrates the positive affects of day school education.
With regard to intermarriage, a full 96 percent of children that attended day school for 7-12 years married Jewish, as opposed to 76 percent of children that went to supplementary Jewish schools for the same length of time and 33 percent of children that received no Jewish education.
Moreover, 86 percent of 7-12 year day school attendees stated that being Jewish is very important to them, as opposed to 51 percent of supplementary school students and 16 percent of children that received nothing. The report concludes that promoting day school education should be a policy concern.
But the main lesson from Kalamazoo is that this promise would not only benefit children. Every facet of community life would be improved.
At the recent Orthodox Union conference on smaller Orthodox communities, hosted by Lake Park Synagogue in Milwaukee, the keynote speakers discussed whether there is even a future for Orthodoxy in America outside the main urban centers.
Why not? Because Orthodox young people leave towns like Milwaukee when they are college-age and never return. When they are single, they want a larger dating scene; and when they marry and settle down, they dont want to give up the conveniences of their new residences to move back.
The promise of free day school education might change that, because relief from tuition bills enhances quality of life. Young people moving into Milwaukee could create the critical mass we need for our community to jump to the next level and become truly full service.
Kosher restaurants might become economically feasible. A co-ed high school could open. When those milestones are reached, it will then be even easier to recruit more people to move.
Increased day school enrollment would enhance the religious vibrancy of our community by jump-starting not only childrens Jewish education but also their parents. For example, the National Jewish Outreach Program is using day school affiliation to involve parents in learning.
Many parents may not be able to attend adult education classes at synagogues, but by sending their children to a day school they are showing their interest in Jewish learning, said Larry Greenman, NJOPs Outreach Coordinator.
Therefore the day school can be a means of introducing Jewish education into the entire family, he continued. We are launching a program called the Parents are Teachers initiative to offer educational programming to parents at Jewish schools.
Synagogues and other Jewish institutions would benefit as well. Freed from paying tuition, parents may be more able to afford synagogue dues and to support other local Jewish causes.
When more children participate through the schools in community events such as Yom HaShoah and Yom HaAtzmaut, more parents and other adults attend as well.
The cost of making such a promise is steep. It would require a major re-allocation of community resources along with additional funds.
But for a city wealthy enough to support several successful community-wide and synagogue campaigns, such a promise might be possible. This is an idea we should certainly explore.
Rabbi Shlomo Levin is spiritual leader of Lake Park Synagogue.