Last updated: January 14, 2018
- 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.
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).
- 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).
- In 1996, the Commission on Jewish Education of the Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto stated: “Jewish education should be the overriding communal priority to achieve identity and continuity. It is the responsibility of the federation to marshal resources so that the best Jewish education is obtainable and accessible to all who wish to avail themselves of this opportunity.”
- In 2017-2018, enrolment in grades 1 to 12 in 14 day schools funded by UJA was 5,759. In 2007-2008, these schools had 7,084 students. That is a decline of 19%.
- Enrolment at TanenbaumCHAT, the community high school, declined from a high of 1,530 in 2008-2009 to 875 in 2017-2018, a 42% reduction.
- In 2006, 79% of students graduating from the elementary day schools went on to CHAT; in 2015, only 52% enrolled in CHAT. In 2017, 58% went on to CHAT. This increase was likely due to a substantial reduction in tuition because of a large donation, as described below.
- 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.
- Toronto’s rates of day school attendance 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.
State of the schools in 2017
- 2017 was a year of dramatic developments in Toronto day schools. On the plus side, TanenbaumCHAT received two donations totaling $14 million for tuition assistance. That enabled the school to reduce tuition from over $28,000 to $18,500 for the next five years. To achieve the required cost reduction, the school closed its Richmond Hill building and consolidated all students at the southern branch on Wilmington Avenue.
- There are strong indications that the tuition reduction at TanenbaumCHAT is turning the enrolment situation around. As of December 1, 2017, applications for 2018-2019 grade 9 class were 50% higher than a year before, 300 compared to 200.
- For elementary schools, there was no such relief. While schools south of Steeles Avenue generally were able to maintain enrolment levels, north of Steeles enrolments continued to decline in some schools.
- As a result, Leo Baeck closed its northern branch. Associated Hebrew Schools announced that it would close the Kamin Campus on Atkinson Avenue in September 2019. However, the northern branches of Bialik and Netivot maintained their enrolment levels.
- Nevertheless, the overall picture was continued decline in enrolment: 59 fewer elementary students and 81 fewer high school students enrolled in 2017 than in 2016 in day schools funded by UJA Federation.
- Declining enrolment has forced the schools to lay off teachers and close schools. This will continue, unless there are large new donations for tuition assistance, similar to the relief CHAT received, and determined action by the schools and UJA Federation.
Tuition fees and affordability
- Tuition fees at Jewish day schools in Toronto are high and increasing. Elementary school tuition ranges around $17,000 a year.
- High school tuition would have been $28,500 at TanenbaumCHAT in 2016-2017 but the school reduced it to $18,500 because of the extraordinary five-year donation.
- 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 11%
- With schools raising tuition at a pace significantly faster than inflation and increases in household income, day schools have become 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 7 years.
- As a core element of its 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.”
- 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, Saskatchewan and Manitoba pay 40 to 60% of the costs of secular subjects in Jewish day schools. That makes a huge difference to affordability.
- Here are elementary school tuition fees for Jewish day schools in Toronto and cities where the province contributes:
- Toronto $17,000
- Vancouver $12,125
- Calgary $8,350
- Winnipeg $10,150
- Montreal $11,500
- 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.
- Ontario politicians and editorial writers have contended for years that public funding for independent schools, including Jewish day schools, would harm the public schools. They say that parents would withdraw their children from public education and “fragment” the system.
- Is this true? Not at all. First, consider enrollment. In Ontario, in 2014-2015, 94% of children were in the public system. In Alberta, which funds independent schools, the public system attracted an even higher proportion, 96%. In Saskatchewan it was 98% and Manitoba 92%, in Quebec 88% and BC 87%. Public education is holding its own in all five provinces that fund independent schools.
- And what about quality? The Conference Board of Canada publishes Canada-wide comparisons of public education results. BC, Alberta and Ontario all rate at the top, earning A+ scores for high school attainment.
- GAJE is determined to hold Ontario to account for the unfair treatment of Jewish day schools and families.
- The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) formed a task force on day school affordability in 2016. The task force aimed to advocate for small improvements rather than the big issue of public funding of faith-based day schools. One example was to seek 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. CIJA joined with Christian schools asking for a change. To date, CIJA has not reported any success.
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.
- 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.
- 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 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 designing middle-income tuition assistance plans that will attract the support of major donors.
- 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 at https://www.facebook.com/GrassrootsAffordableJewishEducation.
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.
 Middle income” means different things in different contexts. Median annual family income in Toronto for couple-headed families was $86,260 in 2015. In the Toronto Jewish community, current day school tuition assistance programs are available to families with incomes up to about $175,000. Middle income is considered to be above that, up to about $350,000.
 The Fraser Institute, “Where our students are educated: Measuring student enrolment in Canada, 2017” at https://www.fraserinstitute.org/sites/default/files/where-our-students-are-educated-measuring-student-enrolment-in-canada-2017.pdf
 Conference Board of Canada, “Provincial and Territorial Ranking: Education and Skills,” June 2014, at http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/Provincial/Education.aspx