The Julia and Henry Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education (CJE) is undertaking an experiment that is one part outreach, two parts tuition subsidy, and with a sample size large enough to justify the results.
The working hypothesis of the experiment is that middle income parents will be more likely to enrol their children in Jewish day schools if the costs can be reduced. To determine whether the hypothesis is valid, the CJE is offering to cap tuition for parents who send their children to either the Leo Baeck Day School’s north campus or the Kamin branch of Associated Hebrew Schools, both in Thornhill. Families whose first child is entering senior kindergarten are eligible.
“We know middle-income families find affording day schools challenging,” said Daniel Held, executive director of the CJE. “They are being squeezed out of the day school system.”
The pilot project, which has received $200,000 in funding from UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, of which the centre is an agency, is geared to families with household incomes from $150,000 to $300,000. It will cap tuition somewhere between 13 per cent and 14 per cent of their incomes.
The CJE has provided a cap calculator on its website with a sliding scale to help families determine their savings. A family earning $150,000 would have tuition capped at $18,000, while a family with household income of $175,000 and three children attending day school would see their fees capped at $21,000, less than half the approximately $45,000 ($15,000 per student) the schools would otherwise charge, the centre suggested.
“It’s geared for families with multiple children,” Held said.
The program will commence in the 2016-17 school year, and once a family become part of the program, the tuition cap will apply for the entire time the children remain in elementary school, from senior kindergarten through Grade 8.
Held said UJA Federation has made access to Jewish education a priority in its strategic plan for 2015 to 2020. “The challenge of day school affordability is particularly acute amongst middle-income families,” the plan states. “Indeed, we have begun to see a barbell effect in day school enrolment: a large proportion of low-income families who qualify for UJA’s financial aid system, a small number of middle-income families who struggle to afford full tuition, and a large population of high-income families who pay full tuition. As tuition increases outpace inflation and household income without a means to reduce the tuition burden, middle-income families are leaving the system and even more concerning, not choosing day school education.”
The pilot program is expected to attract new families into the day school system and to fill existing classrooms, Held added.
“We are most excited about this. Theoretically Leo Baeck has 10 spaces available in SK for next year, “ said head of school Eric Petersiel.
“Certainly it is our hope that this program will attract one or two students right away, but this is about long-term financial sustainability in our schools, especially north of Steeles, where enrolment is down at all schools. The concept of this cap program is to provide predictability for families in terms of the total burden of tuition fees that they have to bear, and that relief will not kick in until a family has two or more students at a school.”
To qualify for the pilot program, families will be expected to reveal their financial situation. But the requirements will not be as invasive as those faced by families applying for subsidies under the current tuition assistance program, which is aimed at families earning less than $150,000, Held said.
UJA provides more than $10 million in tuition assistance for 2,300 youngsters in 14 participating day schools through that program.
Held suggested that the pilot program would be considered a success if it attracts a few dozen new students. “If it’s successful, we’ll have to look at how to scale it up for more schools and more grades,” he said.