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Thursday, July 31, 2014

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A proposal for cutting day school fees

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As summer approaches, Jewish day school parents in Toronto will soon be getting notifications about tuition fees for next year. Undoubtedly, fees will rise, as they do every year, at two to three times the rate of inflation. This is to be expected, as cost-cutting measures that might be employed in other industries have little impact in a service industry such as education. Unless one wants to replace teachers in the classroom with some form of online learning, cost-cutting is difficult. 

Enrolment will once again drop in our day school system. With high school fees hovering at $25,000 (before “extras”) it takes very little imagination to realize that a family earning $200,000 a year and paying full tuition for with three children will have great difficulty making ends meet. With taxes of about $65,000 and tuition another $60,000, that leaves a family of five with $75,000 or so to pay for all other expenses! And the vast majority of Jewish families make substantially less than $200,000 a year.

Ironically, as school fees continue to rise, not only are middle class parents dropping out, so are many wealthy ones. With the gap between a Jewish education and elite private schools narrowing, some parents are choosing the latter.

With millions being spent on communal infrastructure, it’s not certain that enough Jews will care 30 years from now to make use of all our wonderful new facilities. I’m well aware that the Toronto community gives more support to Jewish education than any other and that there are many pressing needs besides education. So as we hear repeatedly, there just isn’t enough money to solve this crisis. After all, how many times can we go back to the same few very wealthy and very generous people and ask for more? Communal funds are tapped out, and to cut tuition in half across the board would cost approximately $100 million a year.

It must be noted that not one additional penny needs to be raised to enable Jewish education to be free in Toronto. A perusal of available public records shows that billions of dollars are sitting in charitable foundations of well-known Jewish philanthropists. That money has already been given away. Unfortunately, very little of it actually goes to charity each year, as capital preservation reigns supreme. If we could change that mindset, the crisis would be solved with the stroke of a pen.

Ah, but if that money is depleted, what will help pay for all other future needs?

The simple answer is that nothing needs to change. The amounts sitting in foundations are so large that all priorities can be paid for, provided one does not feel that capital must be preserved indefinitely. Furthermore, as I have previously argued, as a condition of benefiting from greatly lowered (or free) day school fees, parents can be required to buy life insurance plans at a fraction of the cost of day school fees, the proceeds of which would replenish any “capital depletion.”

There’s no greater legacy than creating “Birthright Education.” Doing so will lead not only to a more engaged community, but to a more giving one, allowing us to support even more worthy causes.

Send comments to rabbijay@torahinmotion.org.

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