Home Perspectives Opinions To save Jewish education, community’s gotta put money where its mouth is

To save Jewish education, community’s gotta put money where its mouth is

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First it was Leo Baeck, then it was the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, now it’s Associated Hebrew Schools: three Toronto-area Jewish day schools with a combined enrolment of over 3,000 students have, within the last six months, announced plans to close one of their branches. This may be shocking, but it’s hardly surprising. Like the financial crisis of 2008, the signs of collapse were manifest for years, but were missed – or ignored – until, almost overnight, the “bubble burst.”

Such blissful ignorance and an unwillingness to deal with a smaller problem before it becomes a more serious one is what lies behind stock market crashes, real estate bubbles and the collapse of once-mighty firms (we Canadians might want to think Bre-X, Nortel or even BlackBerry Limited).

I shudder to think that we may be, God forbid, witnessing the beginning of the end of the day school movement as we have come to know it. We, therefore, cannot abdicate our responsibility to our future by failing to make vigorous attempts to fix the problems that ail our schools. We have the means – we are, after all, the wealthiest Jewish community in history – but tragically, we seem to be lacking the will.

‘I urge all who have a net worth over $10 million to donate 1% of their net worth towards Jewish education… I beseech all those with charitable foundations to donate 5% of their assets’

As the head of school of Associated Hebrew Schools noted, day schools will survive – for the very wealthy and the very committed. The notion that no Jewish child will be turned away for lack of their parents’ ability to pay is, please excuse my language, an outright lie – not because any school wishes it to be this way, but because there is just not enough money to go around.

READ: WHY BOTHER HAVING JEWISH HIGH SCHOOLS IN THE FIRST PLACE?

As is well known, when TanenbaumCHAT announced it was closing its northern branch, it also revealed a $14-million gift, which will allow the school to lower tuition to $18,500 for this upcoming year, and keep it under $19,000 for the subsequent four years. And, instead of a jump of upwards of $12,000 when students move between middle and high school, the fee increase will be kept under $2,000. Hopefully this will reverse the troubling trend, which has seen far fewer students continuing on to Jewish high schools in recent years. Clearly, many of the parents who have been moving their children to public high schools value the day school system – they sent their children there for 10 years. But for many, the increased cost of high school is just too much. One can value something to the nth degree, but if one cannot pay for it, it matters little.

While this wonderful gift has the potential to be the catalyst to solve the tuition crisis, it also has the potential to speed up the demise of the day school movement, unless it is emulated by others. A new, lower tuition bar has been set, and there is no going back. Absent new monies, and based on past trends of tuition increases, in five years, tuition will hover close to $40,000, effectively marking the end of Jewish education for the vast majority of Jewish Torontonians.

But even at $18,500, the system is collapsing. Many who can’t afford $29,000 – and that is most of us – can’t afford $18,500, either.

When all is said and done, it is inexcusable that a community of our wealth does not provide affordable (and sustainable) Jewish education to all those who seek it.

I urge all who have a net worth over $10 million to donate one per cent of their net worth towards Jewish education. Can anyone honestly say that is asking too much?

Furthermore, I beseech all those with charitable foundations to donate five per cent of their assets toward Jewish education. The impact will be so much greater than donating the income earned on those monies. By making a huge difference now, you will be helping to create committed Jews who will then donate to Jewish causes, effectively leveraging your donation for so much more. Please act now, before it is too late. 

Send comments to rabbijay@torahinmotion.org

  • Jeff

    The problem lies in the fact that our leaders do not realize that even lowering CHAT tuition to under $19,000 a year is unaffordable. What will happen in four years when inflationary pressures push tuition even higher.

  • Joe Q.

    I have yet to see a thorough analysis of why and how enrollment is slipping at GTA-area day schools.

    Is the decline in enrollment across-the-board, or limited to particular schools?

    Is there a correlation between schools where enrollment is declining and geography, student achievement, tuition changes, or community socio-economic make-up?

    Is the decline in enrollment largely due to low numbers at the “beginning of the pipeline” (kindergarten)? If so, are after-school / Sunday schools seeing a concomitant increase in enrollment, or does the lack of new enrollment reflect a lack of interest in Jewish education generally? Or is it that day-school families are pulling their children out in the middle grades — and if so, what reasons do they give for doing so?

    On average, how much has tuition increased in recent years? On the expenses side, what has driven the tuition increases? How do the tuition increases compare to increases in average household incomes within the school communities?

    It seems to me that if we want to “save” Jewish education, we need to find the answers to these fundamental questions — certainly it behooves us as a community to do so, before asking philanthropists for more funding.