JTO Pardes

Pardes Jewish Day School, seen here, is one of six Jewish day schools that benefits from Jewish Tuition Organization funds.

The Jewish Tuition Organization (JTO) is urging Arizona companies to take advantage of the $5 million the Arizona Department of Revenue still has available before it reaches its cap for the 2017 corporate private school tax credit. The fund originally had $74 million.

The JTO is reaching out to ask corporations to help secure a share of these funds for the students in its schools who need it the most. JTO supports Desert Jewish Academy, Pardes Jewish Day School, Phoenix Hebrew Academy, Shearim Torah High School for Girls, Torah Day School of Phoenix and Yeshiva High School of Arizona.

“We hope to be able to benefit from this and get more than our fair share of whatever’s left with the help of our community,” said JTO Executive Director Linda Zell. “The community has been very supportive of the JTO and we just hope that this brings more awareness to them that the opportunity still exists for them to be able to help even more children. We want to fill every classroom in every Jewish day school with children whose families feel this is the best place for them to be educated. This is our future leadership. We don’t want anybody to be turned away because of a lack of funds.”

If the JTO can get even $100,000 more from the fund, Zell said that would give 20 more need-based students the opportunity to attend a Jewish day school. So far, the amount of corporate money the JTO has currently raised is more than $1.1 million.

The corporate private school tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar Arizona tax credit. Corporate funds provide need-based scholarships for low-income students. There is no maximum amount that can be provided. For S corporations, however, there is a minimum of $5,000.

If a company wants its tax credit to benefit schools supported by the JTO, the organization will handle all the needed paperwork.

Steve Hilton, chairman and chief executive officer of Meritage Homes Corporation, has been a longtime supporter of the JTO. His company has given thousands over the years to the JTO and the Student Tuition Organization (STO).

“It’s a no-brainer in my opinion,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you pre-pay your Arizona income tax a little early so that those monies can be used for underprivileged children to get high-quality education?”

Hilton’s children attended a Jewish day school in the Valley, and like Zell, he would like to make sure every Jewish child who wants to go to a Jewish school can.

“Every kid should be able to get a high-quality education and even a Jewish education if that’s what they desire,” Hilton said. “Contributing to this fund and seeing these dollars released to the STO and the JTO accomplishes that.”

Hilton said Meritage has maxed out its corporate tax liability for the year, but he urges other companies that haven’t dipped into the fund to take action.

Banks have an added incentive to give to the fund. In some cases, there are criteria that are met that provide banks with an additional credit toward the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). The act provides requirements to the bank to reinvest into low- to moderate-income developmental areas, such as need-based education.

“We wholeheartedly donate our money to those causes,” said Todd Leveen, senior vice president and senior relationship manager at Biltmore Bank. “I have a soft spot in my heart for the JTO because Linda has worked so hard to get this built up over the years, and the board members working with her are very committed to this process. I’ve watched it evolve over time, so we are definitely supportive of that and it does meet our objective to reinvest in our community and helping programs.”

Like Hilton, Leveen urges other companies to use the tax credit fund.

“This is a benefit for the company, but it’s also a moral responsibility for any institution, whether it be commercial banking or otherwise, to give back to their community,” Leveen said. “This is a very easy way to do that.”

Zell hopes other companies will heed Hilton’s and Leveen’s call to action.

“There have been some corporations and some individuals who have corporations who have come through since we started emailing a notice that there are still funds available,” she said. “So that has really been very helpful and it’s just beautiful to see that the community is responding and we hope there’ll be a lot more.

“I would love to get a million dollars. I would like to get more than that, but I would like to get at least a million.” JN

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