The Day School Tuition Crisis Is Reaching a Tipping Point

By Rabbi Jay Kelman, December 8, 2016


GAJE’s note: A slightly different version of this column was published in the Canadian Jewish News.


Parent-teacher meetings are one of the aspects of teaching that I enjoy greatly. Beyond the friendly chatter they afford, it’s important for us teachers to meet the people who raise our students and are ultimately responsible for their education. Teachers are agents of, and partners with, parents in the holy task of educating precious children. “Vshinantem levanecha,” “and you shall teach your children – these are your students,” declare our sages.

This year, many parents raised the issue of the enormous financial toll that comes with paying day school tuition. For those who may not be aware, tuition for one year at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, the school where I have the pleasure of teaching, is around $28,000 per child. Add in the cost of books and an extracurricular trip, and many parents are paying $30,000 or more.

Many others are paying nothing, as they’ve either decided the cost of a Jewish education is not worth it, or they just can’t afford it. Every parent I spoke to said they knew of parents who’d like to send their children to TanenbaumCHAT, but can’t manage the steep price tag.

The day school movement is now at a significant watershed moment. The current situation is much like the financial crisis of 2008, when all seemed fine and dandy, until – almost overnight – the world was on the brink of a depression. Only massive financial stimulus allowed for a recession instead. In retrospect, the signs were all there, but it was easier to ignore or explain them away.

There’s much that’s worth celebrating in our Jewish educational system. It’s not the system itself that needs fixing – though improvements are always possible – but access to it. More and more people whose voices are rarely heard – often because they feel no one is listening – are being left behind. Many will intermarry and many will be lost to the Jewish People.

As was reported in The CJN a few weeks ago, Leo Baeck Day School’s campus in Vaughan, Ont., will be moving into TanenbaumChat’s northern campus. There’s too much infrastructural capacity in Toronto’s day school system, and the move will save the system money. This was hailed as a model of collaboration, sharing and working together. That’s true, but it misses the main point. This is ultimately a failure of our community to enable the middle class to afford Jewish education. Millions were not spent on a beautiful new building for TanenbaumCHAT so that it could be shared with an elementary school. But with enrolment at Toronto’s only community high school down close to 40 per cent – 571 students – over the past six years, there’s plenty of room for sharing.

Over the years, I’ve written many articles proposing ideas on how tuition could be made affordable in Toronto. (See torahinmotion.org/discussions-and-blogs/category/66). Thankfully, a number of initiatives have been introduced in recent years that have great potential. However, they’re tiny in scope, and most families are ineligible.

Briefly, here are some affordable ideas that could make a huge impact in the not-too-distant future.

  • Donate five per cent of your estate to Jewish education. This will cost nothing now, but it’s the greatest legacy you can leave the next generation.
  • For those 71 and older, take part of your maturing RRSP and purchase an insurance policy, with proceeds going to the community. With as little as $1,000 a year in after-tax income, purchase a $100,000 insurance policy that can be donated to the community.
  • For those whose children have graduated, consider donating 10 per cent of your past tuition costs. This would raise millions a year and at a fraction of one’s past costs.
  • Please keep talking and educating people about this issue. The more we do, the more likely we’ll find real solutions.

Send comments to rabbijay@torahinmotion.org.

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