A quick idea. Everyone’s been throwing out different models for delivering Jewish education, and even experimenting in different models for funding it. Has anyone tried to implement an ad-sponsored model?

Most day schools today charge a tuition that is higher than the marginal cost per student, but lower than the actual cost. In other words, they charge more than it costs to educate one more child, but less than the total annual budget divided by the number of students. In essence this means that everyone is on scholarship. Even if every parent paid full tuition, the schools would not meet their expenses without additional fundraising.

There’s not anything wrong with this, in my opinion. This is just another way to implement a differential pricing plan. The goal of differential pricing is to get each customer to pay the maximum that they are willing to pay for a good or service. In the case of schools, a tuition number is set, and anyone who wants to pay less has to submit to an invasive (though justified) financial aid process and then bear the stigma of being ‘scholarship’ families. Those who can afford to pay more are incentivized to do so by having those payments be in the form of donations. Those donations come with tax deductions and suitable honor and recognition.

Every idea that I’ve seen so far has suggested shifting some of the burden of funding schools onto the government, or onto people who are no longer parents of school-age children. What about an ad supported model?
Whether we think we’re in crisis or not, the challenge of affording private school is what most people would consider rich people problems. And there is a world of advertisers who would gladly pay good money to pitch ads at the owners of all those luxury SUVs in the parking lot of your school on PTA night. Can schools monetize this attractive audience more effectively? Some of the suggestions may sound silly, or even tone-deaf, but I’m going to list them anyway as actual ideas for new revenue for schools that could be quite significant:

  • School snail mail and email should feature ads
  • Every school event that includes parents in the audience, from school plays to welcome nights, should have a corporate sponsor
  • School fundraisers should have a wine and/or liquor sponsor
  • Strategic exclusive partnerships with Staples or other school-supply stores to provide special offers to parents
  • Specialists like psychologists, speech therapists and other professionals should be listed (for free) in a school-published web directory. Those who pay could receive a featured listing.

And this is the tip of the iceberg. A real professional in the industry would have dozens more ideas. And no school should do this alone. Schools should work together under a single umbrella marketing arm that would be able to work with advertisers to advertise across a broad network of day schools, increasing scale and making an ad package more attractive to the buyer.

While some of us may feel uncomfortable inviting corporations to advertise through our schools, I would personally prefer that to allowing government to dictate our curriculum in exchange for money. Is it time we consider an ad-supported model for funding Jewish education?