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!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • 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.