Safety first

‘Antisemitism tax’: Security costs for Jewish day school soar amid rising threats after Oct. 7

New study by Orthodox Union's Teach Coalition finds increased by an average of 50% for schools; group pushing for larger government security grants to help shoulder the burden

Since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel and a subsequent global surge in antisemitism, security concerns are front and center every day for Brigitte Dayan, a mother of two Jewish day school students in the New York area. Offsetting those anxieties has come with a hefty price tag, according to a new study.

“We’re not new at this, we’ve had security in mind for a long time, so the issue isn’t so much ‘What are we going to do about this?’ but ‘How are we going to fund this?’” said Dayan, whose daughter is a freshman at the Frisch School in Paramus, N.J., and son is a sixth grader at Manhattan Day School on the Upper West Side. “For me as a parent the issue is also what impact is it having on my children. My son is nervous to wear his kippah on the Upper West Side of Manhattan — never did I think that would be the case [here].” 

Growing security concerns have sent costs soaring for Jewish day schools around the U.S., including a nearly 50% increase in average annual security-related costs, according to a study published earlier this month by Teach Coalition, a division of the Orthodox Union that advocates for government funding and resources for nonpublic schools. Dayan calls the hike “antisemitism tax.”

“Jewish parents, like all parents, will do what we need to do,” she said. “At the same time, let’s look for ways to offset the costs so that it’s not a burden on us for us to be safe at our own institutions.” 

The report, conducted by Teach Coalition’s Office of Jewish Education Policy and Research, found that the average Jewish school is now spending $315,943 annually on security, up from $215,560 prior to Oct. 7. The survey, which received responses from 75 of the 150 schools questioned, polled Jewish schools of all denominations, in New York, New Jersey and Florida – states representing some of the largest Jewish populations in the country.

The findings concluded that security expenses represent 2.35% of the average school’s budget, or $854 per student.

The survey also found that larger schools generally spend more on security in total, while smaller schools spend more per pupil. Security guards comprise 66% of security spending by the average respondent. Forty percent of students at responding schools are paying a security fee of $367 per pupil on average.

Rabbi Saul Zucker, head of the Ben Porat Yosef School, a yeshiva in Paramus, N.J., said he’s seeing the need for more security firsthand. 

“It’s important to be vigilant and that awareness takes having people who are properly trained,” Zucker said. “In the area of security, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You want to make sure the building is not conducive to being a target. Therefore a visible presence of security becomes very important, the clear presence of security guards and the fence around the building and reflective coating on the windows are all critical and even more important since Oct. 7.” 

But these additional measures come at a cost, when it is already expensive to send children to private Jewish day schools.

“For years people have been talking about a tuition crisis, and it is a heavy burden for parents to bear, especially young parents whose children enter the yeshiva day school system between ages 2-5,” Zucker said. “You have to strike a balance between making sure tuition is affordable and at the same time safety being the number one priority. You also want the feeling to be one of being safe and secure but not like we are imprisoned in our own place… we’re a school not a fortress and security spending can turn into a bottomless pit. That balance is something we look at all the time. This is not an area to cut corners.” 

Zucker said BPY has a security fee “in the hundreds” per student as part of the tuition structure, but a “tremendous amount” of funds spent on security are covered by government grants, something that Teach Coalition’s study underscores an urgent need for.

“Public safety is the most fundamental responsibility of governments, so it is only appropriate that they help cover the high cost of securing our schools,” said Dan Mitzner, Teach Coalition’s director of government affairs. “That is why we are fighting harder than ever for security dollars and resources to ensure our students and communities across the country are safe.”

In October, Teach Coalition launched its security-focused initiative, Project Protect. The initiative has pledged to advocate for $1 billion nationally alongside OU Advocacy in government security funding for Jewish schools and other at-risk nonprofits this year.

Zucker noted that while safety is his number one priority, other factors have led to increased spending since Oct. 7, such as mental health counseling programs to deal with anxieties caused by the attacks. 

“Since Oct. 7, the stress on faculty and students has dramatically increased in a tangible way,” Zucker said. “BPY has very deep and extensive connections with Israel. We have many aliyah-aspiring families [and teachers from Israel] so the level of anxiety is palpable, and to deal with that we’ve brought in professionals in a quasi-therapeutic way to run programs within our guidance department.” 

Another added cost, Zucker said, is taking in 11 new students who left Israel temporarily after the attacks. “That adds to the strain so to speak, but we’re happy to do it,” he said, noting that the school charges a prorated cost for those families. 

More than a third of Jewish day schools and yeshivas in North America have seen a rise in inquiries from parents considering moving their children from public schools or non-Jewish private schools since Oct. 7, according to a new survey by the Jewish day school network Prizmah.

The organization also found that many Israelis who have moved to North America temporarily because of the war are interested in sending their children to Jewish schools. More than 1,000 such students have enrolled in Jewish day schools so far, and interest is growing, the survey found.

Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah, echoed Teach Coalition’s findings. “[It’s] the most comprehensive available on the question of increased security costs,” he told eJP. 

Bernstein pointed to an early Enrollment Trend Report conducted in late October, which found that of the other cost areas that Jewish day schools are experiencing, particularly for those absorbing significant numbers of Israeli students who joined as a consequence of the war, includes “needs in school supplies, furniture, mental health needs, and additional staff to support English language learning, as well as in some cases additional staff simply to teach the increased number of students.” 

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.