Back in 1999, a partnership between the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix and six Valley Jewish day schools (including what eventually became Jess Schwartz high school) formed the Jewish Community Day School Scholarship Fund to take advantage of the Arizona Private School Tuition Tax Credit. That year, the fund raised $360,000 from 718 contributors, which translated to $358,840 in tuition subsidies for the 2000-2001 school year to 259 students in five schools (the high school did not open until the 2001-2002 school year).
In 2002, the fund raised more than $1 million in donations from 1,841 donors. By 2007, it topped $2 million and in 2008, the fund officially changed its name to the Jewish Tuition Organization to clarify that it was an independent group.
This year, the JTO reached a new high, breaking $3 million by the April 15 tax deadline. This support came from 2,464 donors.
Although the amount and number of scholarships to be awarded haven’t been determined yet, last year’s $2.9 million funded more than 400 scholarships (with nearly 700 students enrolled in seven schools).
What this translates to is 400 students receiving scholarships to receive a Jewish education – at no out-of-pocket cost to donors!
Through the tax-credit program, Arizona taxpayers can direct their obligation of state taxes to a combination of public schools, private schools, the working poor and needy Arizona military families. And, as of last year, Arizona was one of only 14 states that offered scholarship tax credits, so the Phoenix Jewish community is pretty fortunate to have this option.
Although the April 15 deadline to donate for the upcoming school year has passed, there are more children to educate next year and donations are accepted all year long.
Thank you to those leaders in our community who had the vision to take those first steps in developing the tuition organization – you should feel proud. Sixteen years later, the donations have grown from $360,000 to $3 million, thanks to the efforts of JTO Executive Director Linda Zell and her team.
May the funds collected each year to support Jewish education continue to grow.
As Randy Warner told Jewish News in 2000 when he was the chairman of the Jewish Community Day School Scholarship Fund’s board of directors: “Our goal is to really be at the point where any Jewish kid in town who wants to go to a Jewish day school can.
“There should be no student who stays away because (the parents) can’t afford it.”