A groundbreaking and clearly welcome approach to day school affordability was announced this week by WDS President Aaron Lauchheimer, Board Chairman Jack Bodner and Rabbi Joshua Lookstein, head of school. Titled the “Income-Based Tuition Cap Program,” the plan presents a welcome, innovative strategy designed to help ease the burden of day school tuition for families committed to providing such education for their children.
Westchester Day School in Mamaroneck, New York, is a Modern Orthodox, co-educational, dual-curriculum Jewish day school, serving toddlers through eighth grade, whose mission is to inspire and educate students to value menschlichkeit, mitzvot and lifelong learning. Students are encouraged to impact the world around them by cultivating a commitment to Torah, midot, community and academic rigor. Headed by Rabbi Joshua Lookstein, WDS was founded in 1948, coinciding with the establishment of the state of Israel.
Having analyzed this issue for nearly a year and a half and studying approximately 100 Jewish day schools across the country, WDS’ income-based tuition program is among the most forward-thinking and unique initiatives due to its simplicity and fairness to both WDS and its families. Beginning with the 2019-2020 academic year, families will have the option to cap their tuition obligation as a percentage of their AGI (adjusted gross income) after submitting only their 1040 tax form (which will provide verification of their AGI), rather than completing a full scholarship application. Acknowledging that the current traditional scholarship model, though administered with sensitivity, can be intrusive and daunting to parents, this application provides a compassionate and relatively easy strategy. The percentage of a family’s AGI, or the tuition requirements, will vary between about 10 percent and 20 percent, depending on the family’s income. The program also accounts for yeshiva high school tuition as part of the analysis of a family’s tuition obligation to WDS.
Lauchheimer explained, “We wanted to create a graded tuition system that would make tuition affordable to everyone, based on a family’s income, while at the same time doing so in a fiscally responsible manner for WDS. In establishing this program, it was critical for us to ensure our ability to continue to provide a complete and robust education for our students, including all of the various services and programs that are part of educating the whole child. Setting tuition commensurate with a family’s earnings will enable families to pay what they can afford without the need to go through a scholarship process. Children can receive an excellent, high-quality education at WDS, regardless of their families’ income levels.”
The Income-Based Tuition Cap Program has several advantages. Many families who currently try to navigate the traditional scholarship process can avoid doing so. Under this system, these families will pay the same tuition they would have been awarded through the scholarship process. The new series of measures will also provide predictability to current and prospective families as to their estimated future tuition obligations on a yearly basis. The Income-Based Tuition Cap model will be complementary to WDS’ Middle Income Matrix and scholarship programs, both of which will remain available to families. To facilitate the process, and ensure that families pay the lowest amount of tuition permitted under the plan, a user-friendly WDS tuition calculator can be accessed through the school’s website and parents can determine their lowest tuition options.
The income-based cap includes tuition obligations to area yeshiva high schools. If a family has children enrolled at one or more yeshiva high schools, their WDS tuition obligation would be a pro rata share of the income-based tuition cap. For example, if a family’s WDS tuition is $50,000 and the family’s yeshiva high school tuition obligation is $25,000, WDS’ pro rata share would be (50/75), or about 67 percent of the family’s income-based tuition cap. Please note that with this new program, a family may enjoy up to a 40 percent reduction off their family’s default tuition per the WDS tuition schedule. Reductions of more than 40 percent remain available through WDS’ traditional scholarship program. However, the income-based program will provide families with the relief they need without having to complete a more cumbersome scholarship application.
In announcing this innovative series of measures, WDS leadership acknowledged the difficulties faced by many families in paying for a day school education for their children. “In Parshat Re’eh, in the last verse, we read about the importance of sacrificing to God, ‘Every man shall bring as much as he can afford, according to the blessing of the Lord, your God, which he has given you.’ WDS and its board members hope this new income-based tuition structure will enable families to sacrifice in a way that is commensurate with their means, while enabling them to receive the excellent education provided by WDS.”
Rabbi Lookstein offered, “This initiative is as mission-driven as any classroom program that we implement. It’s a prime example of the commitment of our lay leadership to the value of community.”
By Yvette Finkelstein