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Thinking outside the box on education

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VICTOR BJÖRKUND PHOTO

On June 20, the Toronto Jewish community joined together in a wonderful display of unity. Nine day schools, each with its own ideological bent, “rose up” together in a one-day drive to try to raise $1 million for Jewish education. Each school set its own goal, and donors could choose the school their money would go to. With all the donations going through one centralized website, the subsequent communal buzz helped all of the nine schools meet, and exceed, their targets. All in all, 2,431 donors raised over $1.9 million for Jewish education in one day. There was a 10th category, the one I chose to support, called the “Everyone Fund,” in which donations were split equally between all participating schools.

This joint effort got me thinking of other ways the schools could join together, not only to raise much-needed revenues, but to cut costs, as well. One idea worth exploring is combining the fundraising efforts of all the schools into one centralized effort. When fully (and fairly) implemented, such a system could save some $3- to $4 million a year and would likely generate increased funding for our schools. Twenty-five people working together are much more effective than five teams of five that are working independently of each other.

Furthermore – and equally, if not more importantly – bringing together our diverse community to ensure that Jewish education becomes both affordable and sustainable sends a powerful message about the unity of the Jewish People. The tuition crisis affects Jews of all persuasions and backgrounds, and we should work together to solve it. No doubt, some will balk at such a unified approach and support only the schools that reflect their ideological bent, and such is their prerogative. But only those who join together under one fundraising umbrella would be eligible for assistance from the community.

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Concurrently, tuition would be centralized. Families would pay a percentage of their income for a day school education, irrespective of the number of children they may have, just as families pay a fixed amount of taxes to fund the public system, irrespective of the number of children they have.

In addition to greatly increasing affordability, having a centralized tuition system would allow for greater cost control. We could model our educational system after the public school system, where schools would receive a set amount per student (with some adjustments), so that schools have enough money to provide an excellent education and extracurricular activities, while ensuring that the administrative and other non-educational costs are kept to a minimum.

While centralizing funding would save millions that could go towards tuition, our community will still need to raise more than we currently are. In my last article, I suggested that everyone with a net worth of $10 million or more donate one per cent of their income towards this goal, and that trustees of charitable foundations donate five per cent of the foundation’s capital as a one-time gift.

Of course, that addressed a relatively small – but far from tiny – segment of our community. Yet each and every one of us must also do our part. Be it through insurance policies, estate planning, donations of stocks (something that eliminates capital gains taxes and, combined with the charitable receipt, means that the government pays for some 75 per cent of the donation), or just writing a cheque.

I would like to suggest that people approach their employers and ask that, say, 0.5 per cent of their salary be taken off the top and donated to educate our children. I doubt one would even notice the difference in pay, but what a difference it could make.

Some of these ideas may seem too radical for some, but with school after school closing branches and Jewish education becoming less and less accessible, it is time we come together as a community and start thinking outside the box, to help secure our Jewish future.


Send comments to rabbijay@torahinmotion.org