Friday, April 21, 2023

A Win for Jewish Education in Florida

With a steady diet of depressing events in our daily news feed, we have become worn out and disillusioned. As the global village shrinks, we hear about painful and tragic events more quickly. There is also a near disbelief that anything positive and helpful can emerge from any government entity. With all that in the background, I think a really historic and positive event for the Jews living in Florida may have been overlooked. I am, of course, referring to the recently passed Universal School Choice that was passed this month by a majority in the Florida House and Senate and signed into law by the Governor. Starting this coming school year, Florida students in K-12 schools will be eligible to receive approximately $8,000 to use towards tuition and other educational expenses, with no income eligibility requirements. Regardless of anyone’s political leanings or philosophies, the elected officials, including the Governor, deserve our gratitude for this seismic change for Jewish living in Florida. The significance of this development and its impact on our community cannot be overstated. As one of the biggest challenges in modern American Jewish life is the affordability of Jewish Day School tuition, this law will go a long way in mitigating this near crisis for any family that desires a Jewish education. Jacksonville is known for many quality public schools that are free of charge to any student. It’s hard for any school to compete with a product offered for free by a competitor. It’s not unusual for an Orthodox Jewish family with just a few children to spend over $50,000 (after-tax dollars) per year on private school tuition. It’s also important to note that it costs more to educate a student than even full tuition paid by some parents. Most Jewish schools in Florida invest at least $15,000 per student; in many schools, even full tuition does not cover that expense. This results in large deficits at the outset of the school year and puts enormous pressure on the fundraising infrastructure of the Jewish schools. While the passage of Universal School Choice will not solve every financial issue related to Jewish school affordability, it will go a long way to assisting families and our schools statewide. It will no longer be an option for someone to choose not to send their children to a Jewish school because of affordability. In an era of increasing challenges on the macro and micro levels, it’s essential to pause and celebrate this victory for our community. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

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