UJF starting perennial school funding review

UJF starting perennial school funding review

The United Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is examining the way it funds the Jewish day schools in the city.
The process, which the UJF says it undertakes every few years, could lead to changes in the formula for divvying up the limited local funds set aside each year for the three Jewish schools: Community Day School, Hillel Academy and Yeshiva Schools.
“This is not in response to anything directly,” said Charles Cohen, planning manager for Jewish continuity with the UJF. “This is not an unusual or uncommon occurrence.”
The examination involves a committee looking at various models for funding schools.
Aside from tuition, the three Jewish day schools get most of their operating budgets from the UJF and from funds collected as a result of the Education Improvement Tax Credit.
Of those two, the EITC, where corporations donate to scholarship funds in return for tax credits from the state, is by far the larger funding source. In the 2008 fiscal year, it brought more than $2.8 million to Pittsburgh. By comparison, the UJF allocated around $690,000.
The UJF gives around $100,000 to each of the schools every year as a fixed base amount, and divides the remaining $360,000 among the three schools on a per capita basis.
That formula is currently under review. The UJF tackles the formula every few years, Cohen said. The most recent review shifted the amount of fixed funding for the schools.
The process is just getting under way, with a volunteer committee looking at the issue.
All three schools are represented on the committee, Cohen said, along with members of the community. So far, the committee has met once, reviewing eight different models for funding schools.
Changing the funding formula almost certainly means changing the funding for at least one school, Cohen said, but he noted that the UJF views school funding from a communitywide perspective that looks at the goals and strengths of each institution.
“That’s why we want the formula to speak to those priorities,” Cohen said.
Cohen does not expect any “drastic” changes to funding — which he described as being more than $10,000 taken or given to any one school — but said major changes would be phased in over multiple years to blunt the impact and give schools a chance to adjust.
Last year, the UJF gave $690,283 to the day schools, according to its allocations report. Of that, $260,674 went to Yeshiva, $228,203 went to Community Day and $177,406 went to Hillel. An additional $24,000 went to bonuses for day school teachers.
Cohen said the UJF still prefers to give the schools bulk funding to use at their discretion, rather than issuing many smaller allocations to fund specific projects.
“We trust the agencies to do what they do best,” Cohen said.
One challenge facing the UJF as it examines the formula is that specific funding amounts remain unknown until the conclusion of the annual campaign next summer.
Cohen said the UJF attempts to keep funding relatively stable from one year to the next.
“We try to be a reliable source of funding for the agencies,” Cohen said.
This review of funding comes at a time of uncertainty for the local Jewish day schools.
The most recent state budget reduced EITC funding by 20 percent, cutting $15 million from the program this year and signaling plans to cut an additional $10 million next year.
Those cuts are blunted slightly because the EITC programs used most by the Jewish community — one for funding K-12 students and another for pre-school students — got cut less than a third program that funds innovative education programs in public schools.
While private schools that use the EITC can expect to have less money available this year, schools won’t know exactly how much less until the state finishes crunching numbers.
The delay in the budget this year kept the Department of Community and Economic Development from approving applications it began receiving this past summer.
As compensation, lawmakers prorated funding for the EITC this year, funding all eligible applications at a reduced rate. The state is currently calculating that proration.

(Eric Lidji can be reached at ericl@thejewishchronicle.net or 412-687-1006.)

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