It may only shepherd six schools, but when it comes to the number and size of scholarship dollars it provides students, the Jewish Tuition Organization (JTO) stands tall across the state.

Each year, the Arizona Department of Revenue releases a report on how much and what kind of scholarship funds the state’s Student Tuition Organizations (STO) raised through individual and corporate tax credits each year for private school tuition. The report also looks at how the various STOs stack up against each other.

Armed with the latest report, Gaby Friedman, manager of the business office at Torah Day School of Phoenix and a member of the JTO board, decided to dive into the numbers to see how the JTO compares to other STOs in Arizona. Specifically, Friedman compared the JTO with 54 other STOs that receive the original individual income tax credit, as well as the “switcher” individual income tax credit.

The switcher credit allows a second individual income tax credit for those who wish to give more than the amount allowed under the original individual income tax credit program. The switcher individual scholarship is available to K-12 students who have “switched” from public to private school or are entering kindergarten. For 2017, a single person could give up to a combined $1,089 and receive a tax credit. Married couples could give a combined $2,177.

There are six JTO schools: Pardes Jewish Day School, Torah Day School of Phoenix, Phoenix Hebrew Academy, Shearim Torah High School, Desert Jewish Academy and Yeshiva High School of Arizona. Linda Zell, executive director of the JTO, said the schools received a combined $3.4 million in scholarships for the 2017-2018 school year, up from $3.23 in the 2016-2017 school year.

Breaking down the 2016 numbers, which are the latest available, the JTO placed 10th among all 55 STOs in the state for individual donations. Arizona taxpayers donated $1.8 million to the JTO, which paid out $1.6 million in scholarships. Topping the list was the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization with $13.9 million in donations and $10.1 million in scholarships.

But when it comes to the size of an average scholarship derived from the original individual income tax credit, the JTO comes in at No. 1 among the top 10 STOs for individual donations at $3,017. In second place is the Arizona Private Education Scholarship Fund at $1,962.

“I was a little stunned to see how high we ranked, because you always underestimate what you are doing,” Zell said. “I think this is a case of the community coming together to support families who want their children to go to a Jewish day school.”

For the switcher funds, the JTO came in seventh place at $1.3 million in donations with $1.2 million in scholarships. At the top of the list was the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization with $7.1 million in switcher donations and $5.2 million in scholarships.

Once again, however, the JTO held the No. 1 spot among the top 10 STOs for switcher donations for the average scholarship size. The average amount of a switcher donation at a JTO school was $2,546. In second place was the Brophy Community Foundation with $2,478.

The JTO’s small size comes with advantages and disadvantages. It’s easier to provide heftier scholarships when there are only about 700 students in all the JTO schools combined. On the other hand, Catholic and other Christian STOs have hundreds of schools and thousands of students, which translates into a much bigger pool of potential donors.

“A lot of the STOs that make a lot more money than the JTO are collecting donations from many, many schools,” Friedman said. “We’d always assumed that the Catholic STOs and other Christian STOs were larger, but we’re right up there with them. Even though the Jewish community is so much smaller than the Catholic and the rest of the Christian community, we really have a lot of support from the Jewish community.”

And the individual JTO schools are doing well in their own right. Of the 341 private schools in Arizona, Pardes and Torah Day rank in the top 5 percent for total individual and switcher scholarships. Phoenix Hebrew ranks in the top 9 percent, and Shearim, Desert Jewish and Yeshiva High are in the top 44 percent.

Zell now hopes to use Freidman’s efforts and initiative to continue carrying forth the message that the JTO does good work for the Jewish community’s children and schools.

“I think they can see that there’s value to supporting the JTO, and the good work that is being done is thanks to their support. We are very appreciative of the community coming together and supporting our schools,” Zell said. “There is a lot more room in the schools for us to be able to give away a lot more than what we bring in now.

“In addition, the schools are still giving out some internal scholarships, which cut into what they can spend on improving their schools, on hiring additional teachers and other types of resources. The more we bring in and the more we are able to help the schools, they can cut back on having to spend their internal funds on tuition scholarships and can use those funds for other programs. The JTO can only fund scholarships. We can provide them with that.” JN

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