By Dave Neil
Hebrew Charter Schools could play a much larger role in promoting Jewish Continuity then they have until now – and the number of such schools could grow significantly.
Currently there are no more than a dozen such schools in the U.S. If we partner a Hebrew Charter School with a Jewish Day School we could cut the cost of the Jewish Day School by 40%, so why not greatly expand the Hebrew Charter School movement?
Hebrew Charter Schools are public schools and so are free. They are open to Jews and non-Jews. No Judaic Studies are taught except Hebrew Language.
The Jewish Day School movement for non-Orthodox Jews has seen a drop in enrollment since the 2008 economic downturn till today.
Some Community Jewish Day Schools already have many non-Jews enrolled in the school. In one Jewish Day School in Akron Ohio for example less than half (43 out of the 101) students are Jewish! (For more about non-Jews attending Jewish Day Schools see this 2013 JTA article.)
The biggest obstacle to expanding Jewish Day Schools for the non-Orthodox is tuition.
The single biggest expense in the Jewish Day Schools budget is teacher’s salaries – which make up 80% of the cost of tuition.
A Jewish Day Schools splits the day between secular and religious studies. Let the state pay for 40% of a Jewish Day School education by covering the cost of the teachers teaching secular subjects. Jewish Day Schools would become half time schools with the Hebrew Charter School covering the secular subjects and Hebrew.
If you had a Hebrew Charter school for a half day and then bused the students over to any location where the students could be taught the Judaic Studies side of the curriculum you could cut the cost of tuition by 40%!
If State law would allow the secular subjects to begin at 1 PM and go till 4:30 PM few non-Jews would want to attend a school where they would finish everyday so late in the afternoon. Having Judaic Studies taught privately in the morning followed by an afternoon Hebrew Charter School (if regulation would allow) might be a way to ensure that most-all of the student body in the secular Hebrew Charter school afternoon part would be Jewish.
Chabad appears to be on the cutting edge of this concept where twice a week the (Jewish students) are picked up from Harlem Hebrew Charter School and bused to Chabad of the West Side for a 90-minute class.
This concept could help with the “tuition crisis” in some Modern Orthodox schools as well, but Centrist (and Right wing) Orthodox Jews would not want to do this for ideological reasons – i.e. concern for the outside non-Jewish influence.
Dave Neil is a PR consultant and lives in Jerusalem with his wife and children and has a special interest in Jewish Continuity.