Last updated: December 15, 2016
- Day school education is the strongest guarantor of lasting, positive Jewish identity in our children.
- The ever-rising cost of day school tuition has made it unaffordable for more and more middle-income* families. That threatens the future of an excellent, diverse Jewish educational system in our community.
* “Middle income” means different things in different contexts. Median annual family income in Toronto for couple-headed families was $80,680 in 2013. In the Toronto Jewish community, current day school tuition assistance programs are available to families with incomes up to about $150,000. Middle income is considered to be above that, up to about $300,000.
Importance of Jewish day school education
- “Jewish day schools are the gold standard in Jewish education. No other form of Jewish education provides the robust training in Jewish values, imparts the level of knowledge, or instills the same level of Jewish commitment…” (Daniel Held, Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education, UJA Federation).
- Rabbi Lee Buckman, Head of School at TanenbaumCHAT, points to three reasons for the importance of a Jewish high school education: 1) it solidifies a teenager’s Jewish identity, 2) it strengthens their ability to discuss complex questions and 3) it prepares students to feel comfortable in their Jewish skin when they face the “real world” outside the Jewish bubble.
- Day school graduates are “…more than twice as likely to marry Jewish partners, to join synagogues, to observe Jewish rituals, Shabbat and holidays, attachment to Israel, and to become involved members and future leaders of their Jewish community upon reaching adulthood.” (Rory Paul, Grey Academy of Jewish Education, Winnipeg).
- 31% of Jewish school-aged youth were enrolled in grades 1-12 in Toronto’s day schools (2011, latest available data). Another 19% were enrolled in supplementary schools, bringing the total to half of the age cohort who received any formal Jewish education.
- These rates are high compared to US cities but lower than Montreal. In Montreal, where tuition is about a third lower because of government funding for secular studies, 56% of Jewish students attend day schools.
- In 2014-2015, enrolment in grades 1 to 12 in 14 day schools funded by UJA was 6,235. In 2007, these schools had 7,084 students. That is a decline of 12%.
- Enrolment at TanenbaumCHAT, the community high school, declined from a high of 1,530 in 2008 to 1,038 in 2015, a 32% reduction.
- In 2006, 79% of students graduating from the elementary day schools went on to CHAT; in 2015, only 52% enrolled in CHAT.
- The Koschitzky Centre advises that enrolment in non-Orthodox day schools declined from 2002 to 2014 while enrolment in Orthodox schools was flat.
- Declining enrolment in Toronto’s day schools has forced the schools to lay off teachers and this is expected to continue.
Tuition fees and affordability
- Tuition fees at Jewish day schools in Toronto are high and increasing. Elementary school tuition ranges around $16,000 a year. High school tuition is $27,300 at TanenbaumCHAT in 2016-2017.
- Tuition fees in the elementary day schools rose about 6% this year; TanenbaumCHAT’s increase was 3%. In recent years, family income in Toronto has increased about 2% a year.
- This follows the same pattern as past years. Elementary school tuition in day schools affiliated with UJA Federation, as well as TanenbaumCHAT, increased by 61 and 62% respectively from 2001 to 2011, while average household income rose only 10%.
- With schools raising tuition at a pace significantly faster than inflation and increases in household income, day schools are becoming less affordable and less sustainable each year. They are becoming more and more the exclusive domain of the financial elite and low-income families receiving subsidies. Middle-income families are being squeezed out.
- When added to the onerous costs of home ownership and maintaining a Jewish household and Jewish way of life in a Jewish neighbourhood, the cost of day school tuition is breaking the economic backs of many of our young families.
UJA Federation and Koschitzky Centre
- UJA Federation currently allocates $12.6 million yearly to Jewish education. That is 26% of its annual allocations. Of that, $9.6 million is designated for day school tuition assistance, providing subsidies for 2,300 students. It is the highest share allocated to Jewish education of any Jewish community in North America but it accounts for only 10% of the operational costs of affiliated Jewish schools in Toronto. The allocation has not increased in the last 6 years.
- As a core element of its new strategic plan, UJA intends to buttress the affordability and financial sustainability of day schools. The plan cites Jewish education as one of UJA’s six priorities. It says,” We will make Jewish Education a key strategic focus…in order that our educational infrastructure continues to strengthen our community into future generations.”
- UJA’s Koschitsky Centre aims to collect and share with the schools data on school costs to uncover school and system-based efficiencies. The aim is to allow schools and UJA to find cost-cutting measures such as reducing the staff/student ratio, reducing the number of campuses and facilitating mergers and consolidations.
- June 2016, UJA announced a Tuition Cap Pilot Program to give middle-income families relief from high tuition. The Koschitzky Centre 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. The pilot project is geared to families with household incomes from $150,000 to $300,000. It caps tuition at between 12 per cent and 16 per cent of their incomes no matter how many children they enroll.
- The Koschitzky Centre is operating an extended payment plan pilot project for families of high-school students at TanenbaumCHAT and Bnei Akiva Schools. It provides low-interest loans, allowing middle-income families to extend payment of up to 25% of tuition for a maximum of 10 years.
- Robbins Hebrew Academy and Leo Baeck Day School have also done pilot projects of middle income tuition relief.
- As the results of the pilot projects are known and analyzed, they will help guide the design of tuition assistance.
- The province of Ontario pays 100% of the cost of Roman Catholic schools and none for all other religious day schools. Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan pay 40 to 60% of the costs of secular subjects in Jewish day schools.
- Since the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed the legality of the educational funding practices of the Ontario government (Adler v. Ontario 1996) and since the provincial government confirmed in 2007 that it would take no steps to ameliorate the effects of discriminatory funding practices, a sense that nothing can be done about public funding took hold among Jewish communal leaders.
- In a departure from that pattern, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) formed a task force on day school affordability this year. GAJE is a member. The task force is looking at small, specific improvements rather than the big issue of public funding of faith-based day schools. One example is to secure equal access to funding from the Ministry of Health for day school students who have special needs because of health problems such as blindness, deafness and learning disabilities.
It takes a community
- Jewish education is a birthright of every Jewish child. It is not a privilege. If it is a right, then it is the responsibility of the whole community, and its costs should be borne not only by the parents. Our collective future should be the responsibility of the whole community.
- We are the wealthiest community in Jewish history but it seems that we cannot afford to educate all our children. Jewish leaders talk about our commitment to the community and its continuity, about how we take care of each other and of the next generation. It is time for action.
- We need to have a serious discussion about the implications for the future, about who will fill the beautiful campuses we have built and are continuing to build.
- We must not allow the Jewish day schools to weaken. If we do, it will lead to the erosion of Jewish identity and a weakened sense of shared Jewish peoplehood in coming generations. That will in turn affect all our communal agencies and organizations.
- Solutions to the affordability crisis must come from a fully representative cross section of individuals and organizations within the community.
- The community must act to restore a sense of hope among our young families that they will be able to provide Jewish education for their children.
- Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks explained why the obligation falls upon us all: “For Jews, education is not just what we know. It’s who we are. No people ever cared for education more. Our ancestors were the first to make education a religious command, and the first to create a compulsory universal system of schooling – eighteen centuries before Britain… The Egyptians built pyramids, the Greeks built temples, and the Romans built amphitheaters. Jews built schools. They knew that to defend a country you need an army, but to defend a civilization you need education. So Jews became the people whose heroes were teachers, whose citadels were schools, and whose passion was study and the life of the mind.”
- This should be the most important immediate and long-term priority for our community. By striving to make Jewish education more affordable, we fulfill a moral obligation to our community and a historic obligation to the wider Jewish people. The status quo is an affront to conscience. Inaction is not an option, nor is failure.
Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education (GAJE)
- GAJE is an independent, grassroots group. Its mission is to make Jewish education in our community affordable for every family that wishes to send its children to a Jewish day school.
- GAJE believes the issue is both too urgent and too large a task for one group, agency, organization or individual to resolve. The entire community must become part of the solution. It should include parents, grandparents, UJA Federation and the Koschitzky Centre, day schools and teachers, synagogues, philanthropists and concerned community members and leaders.
- GAJE is developing solutions on several fronts in cooperation with our partners. We are investigating setting up an endowment fund for day school tuition relief under the auspices of the UJA’s Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto. We are looking into insurance plans under which policies are donated for day school tuition and premiums are treated as charitable donations. We are encouraging more grandparents to help pay the costs and become supporters of the schools.
- GAJE supports the efforts of UJA and the Koschitzky Centre to find solutions on both sides of the issue: helping middle-income families with tuition relief and finding efficiencies to curb the rise in day school costs.
- For the latest information on GAJE activities and research resources, visit our Facebook page.
What you can do
- Tell our community leaders that affordability of Jewish education is the top issue facing our community.
- Join with others to learn about the issue and find solutions.