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Grandparents should help out with day school tuition

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Jewish students learning MJDS PHOTO
Jewish students learning MJDS PHOTO

As a grandparent, I feel I have a stake in the success of Toronto’s Jewish day schools.

Grandparents have been helping their children pay day school tuition for years. What has changed is that the burden of tuition fees for middle income families has escalated dramatically in the last 10 years. To find out whether grandparents are doing more now, I spoke to a few, as well as to fundraising staff at Toronto day schools.

While some grandparents give their children money for tuition, others pay directly to the school. Alice (not her real name) pays 90 per cent of the tuition for three grandchildren who attend Jewish day schools in Toronto. Her children have not applied for tuition subsidies, because they think they would not qualify. Despite that, Alice says that they would find it “a considerable hardship” to pay current tuition fees on top of the high cost of housing and child care. “The parents are the generation that can least afford it, so we have to share the burden,” Alice says.

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Donna, a grandparent of modest means, told me why she contributes toward her grandchildren’s tuition. “If I had one grandchild, I could do more,” she said. “But I have five, and only three of them go to day schools. I can only give to one what I give to all.” Still, she explains, “it’s important to give what you can afford, even a symbolic amount. You’re sending a message to your grandchildren that Jewish education is important.”

How many grandparents contribute to day school tuition? Elysa Greisman, director of advancement at Associated Hebrew Schools, says it’s a “sticky question,” because Associated only knows about grandparents who pay tuition to the school. It doesn’t track money that flows from grandparents to parents. Nevertheless, Greisman estimates that 20 to 25 per cent of students benefit from the support of grandparents.

Rhona Birenbaum, chief financial officer of the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, Toronto’s Jewish community high school, says that only a small proportion of students – less than five per cent  – have tuition paid directly to the school by grandparents. TanenbaumCHAT issues charitable receipts to all parties who pay a portion of tuition. According to Birenbaum, there could be two, three or even four parties paying the tuition of a student.

Over the last three years, TanenbaumCHAT has been reaching out to grandparents. The school hosts an annual Grandparents Day, when grandparents attend a class with their grandchildren. Associated has a program to involve grandparents in the school, too.

Of course, grandparents helping pay for day school tuition is not a new phenomenon, nor will it solve the affordability problem. Even so, we should remember that our tradition regards Jewish education as the responsibility of the whole community. After all, Jews were the founders of free public education, going back 2,000 years.

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As Alice says, “I’m able to look after my family, but that doesn’t guarantee that the schools and the community in Toronto will continue to be strong. I’d really like to see the leadership of the community put down the money to ensure that future generations will have access to day school education.”

In my view, grandparents should contribute what they can afford to day school tuition. At the end of the day, paying something toward day school tuition is more than a financial matter. It communicates to children and grandchildren that you value Jewish education.


Jeffrey Stutz is a member of Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education.

Photo: MJDS