Middle-income families have a new incentive to consider the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School, to the tune of $25,000.
The "Cozen Scholars Program" will provide $5,000 annually, for up to five years, to qualifying families with children entering kindergarten or first grade in the fall.
The program was funded by namesake benefactors Sandy and Stephen A. Cozen, longtime supporters of Jewish institutions such as the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the National Museum of American Jewish History, the Anti-Defamation League and the USC Shoah Foundation Institute.
Steve Cozen, founder and chairman of Cozen O'Connor, a Center City law firm with branches around the country, said the gift was prompted by an observation that many families seemed to be passing up Jewish education because they felt they wouldn't qualify for financial aid, and covering the tuition seemed like too much of a strain. An education at Perelman ranges from almost $15,000 a year for kindergarten to about $21,500 in middle school.
With four of seven grandchildren having graduated from the school, Cozen said, he believed that the cost was worth it. "It's as good a private school as you're going to find," he said. "You get the extra added advantage of being fully and completely engulfed in Judaism."
To start, Cozen said he's pledging to provide grants for 10 new students. Siblings of existing students won't be eligible, only new families. A committee will select the recipients after reviewing the applications, said Cozen.
Jay Leberman, Perelman's head of school, declined to define "middle-income," saying that he didn't want to discourage anyone from applying in case they were eligible for other types of assistance. About 40 percent of the students who attend Perelman receive some kind of aid, he said.
Ideally, by making such a strong public statement about the value of Jewish education, he said, the Cozens will encourage others to follow their lead.
"It's a tremendous shot in the arm for not just Perelman, but for all day schools," said Leberman, who oversees two elementary branches and the Saligman Middle School.
Enrollment at most local Jewish day schools has been declining in recent years, a trend that Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy and Perelman attempted to reverse just two years ago with similar tuition incentives.
At Perelman, the initiative was also spurred by a benefactor with a personal connection to the school: David Magerman, a board member with two kids at the Stern Center in Wynnewood. In 2007, Magerman offered to subsidize up to 33 percent of the tuition for three middle-income families from his synagogue, Har Zion Temple. Then, in fall 2009 he provided tuition grants for new students enrolling in the elementary or middle school, regardless of need, through his Kohelet Foundation. Those students will be eligible to receive up to $27,000 toward elementary school or up to $18,000 toward middle school if they continue at Perelman.
A total of 87 kindergartners and 45 sixth-graders enrolled that year. In previous years, said Leberman, kindergarten was averaging about 70 children. Enrollment in the sixth-grade class the prior year was in the 20s.
Leora Zabusky said she and her husband had been thinking about Jewish day school for a while, but the Kohelet incentive pushed them to consider it sooner and more seriously. Instead of keeping their daughter, Arielle, 6, in a synagogue kindergarten program, they enrolled her at Perelman's Stern Center. Their younger daughter, Haley, 4, will start kindergarten there this fall.
Even though scholarship incentives might still not reduce tuition enough for some families, Zabusky said she thought it was a great way to grow an institution that's often credited with grooming future Jewish leaders.
"It's a really worthwhile investment for the Jewish community to make," she said. "There's a lot of families who say, 'Oh, I would love to consider Perelman, but I have two kids or I have three kids -- that's a huge amount of money.' "
Leberman said he believes the incentives will work because once families experience what the school is like, they're hooked. Getting them to take that first taste is crucial, he said.
As far as Cozen is concerned, the enrollment challenges that day schools face are all about affordability. "If we provide access," he asserted, "the rest will follow."
For more information, call the Perelman admissions office at 215-635-3130, Ext. 210.