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Pay what you can

A pilot initiative has been launched by the new Jewish Education Foundation in Victoria to strengthen Jewish education, by offering an alternative pathway into Melbourne's Jewish schools at an affordable cost.

Jewish students on their way to school. Photo: Peter Haskin
Jewish students on their way to school. Photo: Peter Haskin

Jewish children in government schools will be able to apply for a limited number of unfilled school places in Jewish day schools for 2023 and 2024 at reduced fees.

Six Jewish schools have joined a pilot initiative by the new Jewish Education Foundation offering an alternative pathway into Jewish schools at an affordable cost. A new, independent fee assessment board (FAB) will assess applicants’ capacity to pay fees based on a non-intrusive model that takes into account a family’s income, assets and liabilities but does not delve into personal expenditure.

Taking part in the two-year pilot are Bialik College, King David School, Leibler Yavneh College, Mount Scopus Memorial College, Sholem Aleichem College and Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah Colleges.

Foundation chair Alan Schwartz called the partnership “unprecedented in the history of Jewish education in Victoria”.

“I commend the schools for their willingness to work together to welcome more Jewish children into our schools,” he said.

He said the pilot includes an anonymous application process that will provide fee certainty to parents. A child who is allocated a place will be guaranteed that place for the remainder of his or her school life for the annual fee assessed by the FAB.

Schwartz said parents are entitled to a “simple, robust and dignified” assessment process.

He said escalating school fees – some as high as $39,000 for year 12 – were putting a Jewish day school education out of reach for some families. Findings this year by Monash University showed that many average and even above-average income earners consider Jewish day school fees to be beyond their means.

Schwartz said the foundation did not seek to recommend how schools should change to meet financial and demographic threats, nor did it believe that attending a Jewish day school was the only way to get a Jewish education.

“Rather, we believe that the best ideas for change will emerge from a long, patient and inclusive conversation within the widest possible cross-section of our community,” he said. “People are talking, and that debate has been lively, intense, passionate, with many different voices and views.

“I am proud the foundation has initiated the fee assessment board and a debate that reminds us of the central place education holds at the heart of Jewish life.”

Mount Scopus president Amy Hershan said the school is looking forward to being involved and providing an additional channel for families in the public school system to apply for fee relief. “We are confident that this process is fair and equitable to both new families and those already receiving fee assistance, and are committed to continuing our work with parents … to ensure their children have access to a Jewish education,” she said.

Biliak principal Jeremy Stowe-Lindner said, “The fee assessment board is a welcome cross-communal contribution, enabling those in the community who value a Jewish education and need financial assistance to access it. Members of our board, as well as our finance and leadership teams, have been proactive in supporting the FAB in the development and testing of the model.”

Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs is helping to fund the pilot – subject to sign-off by Israel’s oversight committee – as part of its commitment to strengthen Jewish education in the Diaspora.

The Erdi Foundation will also be funding a limited number of scholarships. CEO and director Simone Szalmuk-Singer said the foundation “is proud to fund the inaugural fee assessment board scholarships, as this pilot represents a significant and meaningful step in community collaboration to address affordability of one of our most important resources – Jewish education”.

“The foundation applauds the breadth and depth of community consultation undertaken to ensure that the process developed for the fee assessment board is respectful, ethical and sustainable.”

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