Expand Tax Breaks for Jewish Schools

Limits Should Rise for Coverdell School Savings Accounts

Make Savings Pay: The government should expand tax credits for parents who save for their children’s Jewish day school tuition.
rabbi jason rozen
Make Savings Pay: The government should expand tax credits for parents who save for their children’s Jewish day school tuition.

By Melissa Langsam Braunstein

Published April 25, 2012, issue of April 27, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The fate of the tax cuts enacted during George W. Bush’s administration will be decided by the end of this year. Deep inside the tax package is a program that the Jewish community should mobilize to save.

Here’s why: A day school education is the single best way to ensure that Jewish children not only know, but also understand the nuances of their religion and heritage, and there are constitutional ways that the federal government can help.

As a day school graduate, I believe that it was my Solomon Schechter education that prepared me for Harvard, as well as for living Jewishly as an adult. And I have always wanted to share a Jewish education with the next generation; however, it’s cheap to express my wishes and more expensive to fund them.

Consider Boston, where we lived previously, and Washington, where we live now. For the 2011–2012 school year, tuition for kindergarten through sixth grade at Washington’s Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School is $20,490. In Boston, the tuition for kindergarten at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston will be $21,725 next year; for sixth-graders it’s $24,695.

These schools and Jewish federations are working to make day school more affordable. Yet costs remain sufficiently high to push day school beyond the financial reach of many American Jews. So while I applaud those who have challenged Jews to accept school vouchers, I wonder why no one has been talking about Coverdell Educational Savings Accounts.

We learned about Coverdell accounts last spring, when I was pregnant with Lila. Lila’s impending arrival focused our minds on how we would finance her education, and my husband and I began researching day school costs. After the initial shock, we began investigating ways to make tuition less prohibitive. We decided to open both a 529 Plan, which allows us to save tax-free for Lila’s postsecondary education, and a Coverdell account, which allows us to save tax-free for Lila’s primary, secondary or postsecondary education.

The striking difference between these two savings accounts is that the 529, which has 18 years to grow, has a $13,000 annual cap per parent (or $26,000 total). Meanwhile, the Coverdell maxes out at $2,000 per child per year. For a day school family, that Coverdell money may have only five years to blossom, and $2,000 is a pittance when compared with annual day school tuition.

This imbalance is illogical. Asking Congress to raise the annual maximum allowable contribution in this already existing program would help families that are undecided about day school more likely to seriously consider — and choose — that option, without infringing on the rights of families that prefer public schools.

This is also the ideal time to ask Congress for consideration, because Coverdell contribution limits are scheduled to be pruned back to $500 per year in 2013, unless Congress acts. The number of families eligible to participate will also be sharply reduced. At present, Coverdell’s income cap for married joint filers is $220,000, but it is scheduled to drop to $160,000 next year.

Jewish organizations should spend this spring and summer seeking partners among other religious groups that sponsor their own parochial schools, as well as creating a broad religious coalition. That coalition should work to raise the maximum annual allowable contribution for Coverdell accounts to $13,000, creating parity between Coverdell accounts and one parent’s annual allowable contribution to 529 accounts.

If we want to promote Jewish continuity, it’s important that Jewish education be a real, viable financial option. Wealthy families already have a school choice; they can vote with their dollars and send their children anywhere they like. Protecting and expanding the Coverdell program would simply expand the range of educational choices available to more taxpayers.

Sending Lila to a parochial school wouldn’t harm any other child or family. My family will be legally required to pay school taxes wherever we live, and if Lila is lucky enough to attend day school, the local public schools will benefit from both having my tax dollars and not having to spend that money on Lila.

The federal government has already accepted the notion that education is a valuable investment that is worth encouraging people to save for and spend on. This is one more iteration of that idea — enabling more Jewish families to confidently choose a Jewish education.

Melissa Langsam Braunstein served as a speechwriter at four federal agencies, most recently the U.S. Department of State. Her recent writing can be found at www.melissabraunstein.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.