Pushing the door on tuition wide open
Between the time of my writing my last article on making Jewish high school free and its appearance in the paper, I was thrilled to see the announcement that Robbins Hebrew Academy (RHA), UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Avi Chai Foundation have joined together to cap tuition at 15 per cent of gross income for parents with three or more children in the school who are earning between $200,000 and $300,000.
This is a great start, but it does not begin to scratch the surface. As the sponsors themselves acknowledge, this will affect somewhere between six and 12 families and does nothing to help pay for any additional children who may be in high school. The importance of this initiative lies not in its initial impact – minimal at best – but in creating a model to expand and implement in all schools for all grades. The door is ajar and we must now work to push it wide open.
Doing so is much less costly than one might think. To cap every parent in this city’s tuition at 15 per cent of gross income would cost $10 million to $15 million a year – or approximately 10 per cent of the current cost of Jewish education. A token investment with a great return!
I have often written about the billions of dollars sitting in Jewish foundations, distributing three to five per cent a year, ensuring that funds will be available in perpetuity. While they worry about what will be in 100 or 200 years, thousands of Jews are assimilating simply because they lack a solid Jewish education. It is startling that only 25 per cent of children in the day school system are on tuition subsidy. It is not that 75 per cent of Jews can afford the $65,000 a year it takes to send three kids to day school. Rather, the vast majority doesn’t even consider it, the costs being beyond anything they can possibly afford. If foundations would distribute just 10 per cent of their funds yearly, hundreds of millions would be available to help produce Jews who will be contributors to our community for generations to come.
This is where the Avi Chai Foundation can serve as a model for us. This innovative foundation, set up in 1984, distributes millions every year to help ensure a dynamic Jewish future. They can do so because the foundation is set up to cease to exist come Dec. 31, 2019. The trustees have the wisdom and foresight to understand that it is not their responsibility to fund the Jewish people in perpetuity from the grave. They will do their part for a generation or more, but then Jewish leaders of the future must take over. They understand very well that there is no such thing as funding in perpetuity. It would be beyond shocking if more than one per cent of foundations today, regardless of their spending habits, will still exist 150 years from now.
The best way to guarantee eternity is not by preserving assets, but by spending down those assets so that there will be a greater Jewish future. I plead with those of you who are blessed to be sitting on millions of dollars to distribute it in your lifetime or soon thereafter. That will be the greatest gift to the community and your eternal legacy.
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