I read that a woman who supports herself independently can use her maaser money to pay her son’s tuition as she does not have a mitzvah to teach him Torah. Is this correct?
Maaser money should not be used – even by a single mother – for the payment of tuition.
If circumstances are extenuating, and a mother doesn’t have enough money for both tuition and maaser, maaser can be used for payment of tuition; the status of a mother is perhaps more lenient in this respect that a father (see sources below).
Although it is true that some Rishonim write that women are not obligated in the education of their children (see Tosafos Yeshanim, Yoma 82a, based on Nazir 29a), many agree that where a husband (a father) is not present, a woman is obligated in her children’s chinuch.
This emerges from the Gemara in Sukkah (2b) concerning the Queen Hilni, who sat with her young sons in a Sukkah, the Gemara explaining that the Sukkah in which they sat must have been valid, because her children were of the age of chinuch at that time.
Thus, we find that the Terumas Ha-Deshen (no. 94; see Tosafos, Eiruvin 82a) rules that in the absence of a father, a mother is obligated in chinuch, and the Meiri (Nazir 29a) likewise states that if a child has no father, his mother is obligated to teach the child how to fulfill mitzvos.
Moreover, according to other authorities (see Rashi, Chagigah 2a), a mother is obligated in chinuch just as a father. However, some authorities clearly imply that a mother — even a single mother — is not obligated in her children’s chinuch (see Rabbi Akiva Eiger, Sukkah 2a; Tosafos, Nazir 28b) — but this appears to be very much a minority position.
Besides the formal obligation of chinuch, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that where the law obligates schooling and where all children attend school, a parent must send his child – boy or girl – to study, for this is essential for his/her upbringing. He therefore rules that maaser money cannot be used even for girls’ tuition, in spite of the fact that the formal obligation of chinuch might not apply. Based on this rationale, the same will apply to a mother.
Therefore, if at all possible maaser money should not be used for the payment of tuition, even by a mother. However, if this is not possible, the status will be somewhat more lenient than that of a father, due to the slight remaining doubt over a mother’s obligation of chinuch vis-a-vis her sons.