Having published several articles related to the affordability of Jewish schools as well as the Free Jewish Education Movement, we know that there are many readers interested in options concerning ever-increasing school fees. While many people would be aware of the internal fee assistance programs run by the individual schools, many may not be aware of the following external program, the Werdiger Family Jewish Education Assistance Grants.
Galus Australis: Tell us a bit about the history of the grant scheme?
David Werdiger: When my father turned 80, he wanted to establish a foundation that would provide ongoing support of Jewish education – something that has always been close to his heart. For the last six years, we have been building up the foundation so that it would have an income stream that will continue to support our mission in perpetuity.
GA: What do you seek to achieve with the scheme?
DW: Our aim is to support families to make choices to either keep their children in a Jewish school, or move them to a Jewish school. The word ‘choices’ is very important here. Some families place a very high value on Jewish education and would do whatever it takes to keep their children there. Others might be financially disadvantaged and are receiving heavy subsidies from the school, and again, would not send their children anywhere else. In both those cases, while a grant would be most welcome, it isn’t going to change what the parents do about their children’s education. We seek to assist middle-income families – often well-paid professionals – who struggle under the private school fee burden, and for whom our grants can help tip the scales in favour of a Jewish school.
GA: Which Jewish schools do you support?
DW: We support Beth Rivkah, Yavneh, Mount Scopus, and Yeshivah.
GA: How do parents apply?
DW: Until now, we have taken applications via the school. They have identified families who are already receiving fee assistance, who are either in the school already or planning to move to the school, and they have referred them to us. The parents then complete an application which is endorsed by the school.
GA: “Until now”?
DW: We’ve been doing things roughly the same each year since the scheme started. This year, we conducted a review and have made a few changes – to the way the scheme operates, and to the way we market it – in order to make sure it stays effective and relevant.
There are a couple of key changes: families who are moving their children to a Jewish school can get a grant for up to three years – previously we only did one year at a time. Also, families who are paying full fees can apply for a grant directly, without having to go through the school. Our research showed that a number of parents are very reluctant to undergo the very onerous process of applying for fee relief from the school, to the point where they would rather take their children out then put themselves through it.
GA: That sounds like quite an indictment of the school fee relief system – are you suggesting they are so draconian that they are chasing families away?
DW: The schools operate on an entirely different scale to us – they have to deal with hundreds of families in financial need and have huge financial pressures of their own. This means they have to be extra tough to ensure the system is being used correctly. We help around 30 families per year, and of those, we expect the direct applicants to be a relatively small proportion.
GA: What is the process?
DW: We accept applications during a few weeks each year – this year they close on 28 September. We then collate them all, and allocate our grant pool on the basis of need. We will advise the schools and the direct applicants of our decisions by 19 October.
GA: How hard is it to decide who gets a grant and who doesn’t?
DW: That is the hardest part of it all. All the applicants are in a difficult financial situation, and when we read their stories, our hearts go out to them, and we don’t want to say no to anyone. While there is a variety of assistance programs and scholarships out there, demand will always be greater than supply. There are always trade-offs – like whether to help a smaller number of families with larger grants, or to spread it around. Part of the challenge of running a foundation like this is to stay true to our mission, and do the best we can to allocate grants in a fair and equitable way. As difficult as it is, it’s a privilege to be on the giving side.
Miriam Goldschmiedt and David Werdiger are administrators of the Werdiger Family Jewish Education Assistance Grants scheme. For more information, contact one of the participating schools, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://grants.werdiger.com.
If you know of any other similar grant schemes, please feel free to use the comments section in order to publicise them.