OU Announces Challenge Grants to Spur Innovative Responses Regarding Tuition Situation

06 Sep 2011


In response to the Jewish educational affordability challenge confronting Orthodox Jewish families, the Orthodox Union today announced Challenge Grants ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 for up to three-years to develop “innovative and replicable solutions to address day school affordability.”

Applications are now open to receive grant proposals from schools and communities, with a deadline for submission of October 28, 2011. Award decisions will be announced on December 4.

According to Yehuda Neuberger, Chair of the Orthodox Union’s Tuition Affordability Task Force, who is coordinating the organization’s response to the tuition challenge, the purpose of the grants is to “catalyze new community thinking,” to “encourage thinking out of the box,” and “to develop ideas which have broad communal support,” and “can be implemented and likely replicated in other communities.”

“The OU believes we must support efforts that challenge the status quo and develop innovative approaches to address the affordability challenge through experimentation with different revenue and cost control models,” he said. The OU has set aside funds to spur new thinking in addressing this issue, and it is hoped that grantees can obtain funds from local Federations, Foundations and other philanthropic sources to match the OU funding.

The OU response to the challenge has occupied much of the time and thinking of OU President Dr. Simcha Katz, since he took office in January. “There is no question that one of the most daunting challenges facing Jewish communities in North America is the high cost of living an Orthodox lifestyle,” he wrote in his column in the Summer issue of Jewish Action, the Orthodox Union’s quarterly magazine. “Particularly in these difficult economic times, when so many are either unemployed or underemployed, the financial demands seem overwhelming.”

“The number one expense for most traditionally observant families is, of course, tuition,” Dr. Katz wrote. “The day school tuition challenge is no longer something that looms on the distant horizon; it has arrived. Consider a family with four children earning $200,000 a year. Only 3.5 percent of Americans earn more, and yet such families are having difficulty paying tuition bills that typically exceed their mortgage obligations!”

Schools as well as families are suffering he noted, with the Avi Chai Foundation’s most recent calculations finding an across the board enrollment decrease of three percent. “Our schools are under enormous pressure as they struggle to deliver both a quality Torah and secular education to our children,” Dr. Katz continued. “The stress factor is filtering down to families; it deteriorates simchat hachayim (joy of living) and it erodes shalom bayit (domestic tranquility). This problem has been decades in the making, and we are now facing a broken and unsustainable system. Our success in dealing with this issue is going to be crucial in determining what Orthodox Judaism in America will look like 25 years from now,” Dr. Katz wrote.

The challenge grant is one aspect of the OU’s response, with the legislative arena, particularly on the state level, being an important area for the organization’s involvement. These efforts are coordinated by the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs | Jewish Political Affairs, based in Washington, but with staff members assigned to local government as well.

Even as efforts in Washington and the state capitals go on, and even as Dr. Katz encourages Orthodox Jews to register and vote in greater numbers than they are doing now, the challenge grant proposal gives each community – through its day schools/yeshivot and synagogues – the opportunity to become actively involved in dealing with the challenge.

For more details about the OU Challenge Grants, requirements and application process and application form, see OU Day School Affordability Grants at www.ou.org. For the text of Dr. Katz’s President’s Message columns, see Jewish Action Online, at the OU website.

OU | World’s Largest Jewish Resource