The Truth, Not the “Alternative Facts,” about Public Funding

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? We at GAJE don’t think so. Consider the five Canadian provinces that provide funding to Jewish and other independent schools. Are their public school systems failing? Not at all.

First, let’s look at 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%. Quebec 88% and BC 87%. Public education is holding its own in all five provinces. (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)

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. (Conference Board of Canada, “Provincial and Territorial Ranking: Education and Skills,” June 2014, at http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/Provincial/Education.aspx)

These are the facts. Harm to the public system is an “alternative fact,” not reality.

Reality is the affordability burden on Jewish families in Ontario.

In each of the five provinces that fund Jewish schools, among others, the public contribution ranges from 50% to 60% of per pupil operating costs in public schools or the local school district. That makes a huge difference to affordability.

Here are elementary school tuition fees for Jewish day schools in Toronto and in cities where the province contributes:

  • Toronto $17,000
  • Vancouver $12,125
  • Calgary $8,350
  • Winnipeg $10,150
  • Montreal $11,500

GAJE is determined to hold Ontario to account for its unfair treatment of Jewish day schools and families. This must change.

Shabbat Shalom

GAJE

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For the love of teaching

More than two months into the school year, despite the ongoing hardship wrought to many families by punishingly high tuition fees, it is important to acknowledge that, by and large, children in all the grades of all the schools across the spectrum in the community are receiving excellent education. Though the results are not always evident for each student, it is not an exaggeration to write that the schools care for and are determined to deliver the best educational experience possible to all their students.

With this in mind, we commend a highly inspiring, moving essay by Zipora Schorr entitled “MiTalmidai yoter miKulam: Reflections on Jewish Education” that appeared on the site of Jewish Ideas and Ideals.

Mrs. Schorr took her title from the phrase in Pirkei Avot, “MiKol melamdai hiskalti,” “I have learned from everyone who taught me”, (namely, from a great many sources and individuals). She uses the phrase as a jumping off point to make the point that she has learned from her students more than from anyone else. She has been the Director of Education of Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore, Maryland for more than three decades and thus is very experienced as an educator.

She introduces herself with the astounding information that she is one of eight siblings – all of whom work in the field of education. She believes she is able to speak, in a certain sense, in their name too. And the way she speaks of her work, of their work and of her students is electric.

“We eight [she and her siblings]… feel we lead lives of deep meaning, and we do so with a sense of joy and passion. Because at the heart of what we do is exactly that: heart. In short, we love what we do because we love why we do it: We love our students, and through them, we touch the future.

“Although this may read like a cliché, we would each assure you that we mean it, and you have only to ask our students and they would confirm it. They know, without a doubt, that we care deeply about them, and we help them to care deeply about themselves—no easy feat in the complex and troubling world in which they find themselves.”

The essay is a heartfelt embrace of teaching, of Jewish schools and of an unsurpassing love for her students. “…our purpose, our goal, our reason for being, the cause to which we are dedicated: the heart and soul of our holy charges.”

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Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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What is our “Big Bet”?

In a recent posting on eJewish Philanthropy, Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, CEO of Mechon Hadar, urged philanthropic and lay leaders to ask themselves “what are the financial decisions we, as a Jewish community, are making now that will have significant consequences for the future?”

“Make some big bets,” Rabbi Kaunfer pleaded at a plenary conference of the Jewish Funders’ Network. He does not disclose his own “big bet” preferences. But he defines how we might choose an appropriate one for our own community. “The end game must be to foster a world of deep Jewish living and meaning. In order to bring that world about, we need creative risk-takers. And we need many, many more dollars than we are spending.”

Applying Rabbi Kaunfer’s definition of a worthy big bet aimed to help “foster a world of deep Jewish living and meaning, there is no doubt in our mind, what that would be: making Jewish education affordable.

If we had a direct line into the philanthropic community of the GTA, we would plead with our community’s generous philanthropists to place their big bet on Jewish education. There is no better way to help “foster a world of deep Jewish living and meaning.”

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Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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The “Affordability Guarantee”

Comparisons do not always work. This is obviously so if one compares dissimilar items such as apples to oranges, or dissimilar situations, such as the day school system in Greater Toronto with that of the system in northern New Jersey. But comparisons even of dissimilar situations can still be instructive.

That is why we bring readers’ attention to an initiative of the Paula and Jerry Gottesman Family Supporting Foundation and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ two years ago, aimed at enabling middle-income families to afford sending their children at four area day schools.

Each of the four schools agreed to limit total tuition expenditures to 18 percent or less of a family’s adjusted gross income, regardless of the number of children in the family. The goal of the program was to help middle-income families who were reluctant to apply for or did not qualify for traditional financial aid. Scholarships for lower-income families remained in place at the four schools.

The amount donated by the Foundation was $10 million. This suggests indeed that the GTA day school situation is far larger and more complex than that of the combined four schools in northern New Jersey. The point, however, of sharing the information with readers is not for the precise detail of New Jersey initiative – although it is vastly interesting and applicable in principle to the GTA. It is rather to demonstrate how imagination, generosity, goodwill, cooperation, mutual respect and an-unbreakable-determination-not-to-give-up on the part of the leaders of that community have lead at least to a meaningful breakthrough.

The tuition cap was one part of a new 10-year program, named “Vision 2025,” which is funded under the Gottesman Foundation. The program includes new family incentives, professional development for teachers, and an effort to market the area to prospective day school families.

Steve Levy, vice chair of the Greater MetroWest Day School Council and a key designer of Vision 2025 said, “the goal was to have an across-the-board affordability guarantee for Greater MetroWest families.”

So far it seems to be working there.

If the federation and philanthropists can implement an affordability guarantee for four day schools in northern New Jersey, why can that not be achieved for the day schools in Greater Toronto?

For the full details of the initiative, see: http://njjewishnews.com/article/28291/gottesman-grant-caps-day-school-tuition.

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Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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Sad and worrisome

Earlier this week, the Board of Directors of Associated Hebrew Schools announced it would consolidate its educational structure from its current three-campus network into two campuses. Beginning with the 2019/20 school year, the Kamin branch (on Atkinson Avenue in Thornhill) will move to the Hurwich Education Centre on Finch Avenue, where it will be housed alongside the Danilack Middle School.

In light of the announcement last spring about the future of the AHS branch on Atkinson Avenue, this week’s announcement did not come as a total surprise or even as a partially immobilizing shock.

But it hurt nevertheless.

The AHS board stated that it has tried to maintain a school north of Steeles Avenue but that under current circumstances and enrolment projections, it would not be fiscally responsible and strategically sound to maintain the Atkinson campus. Consolidation into two campuses, the board believes, is the school’s best option.

The decision effectively means that in two years, there will be one fewer Jewish day school – and no high school – to serve the third largest Jewish community in Canada – namely, the Jews north of Steeles Avenue, in Thornhill, Richmond Hill and Vaughan.

How sad.

How worrisome for the future of the Jewish vibrancy and strength in Greater Toronto.

Affordable tuition is not the only way to strengthen the Jewish educational system. But it is assuredly the starting point.

The community that does not see this, understand this, and urgently implement meaningful tuition reduction programs, essentially authors its own organizational, activist, cultural demise in an ever more quickly approaching future.

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Every Kid Counts: Let us convince the government of Ontario

David Zarnett, Executive Director of Every Kid Counts is seeking more individuals from our community to join their lobbying effort.

Every Kid Counts was launched by a group of parents and families to try to change Ontario’s unfair, unequal, and unjust funding policies of paying for health support services for some but not all of Ontario’s children who try to cope with behavioural, communication, intellectual or physical disabilities in school.

Ontario prefers to fund health support services according to the school attended by the child rather than by the educational needs of the disabled child.

More than 3000 individuals have signed the petition calling on Ontario to ensure that, indeed, every kid counts. But this number is not sufficient to influence government policy. Zarnett urges members of the community to ask three friends or family members to sign the petition. To do so, please visit the campaign website: www.everykidcounts.ca

We support Every Kid Counts. Please sign the petition.

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Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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Teaching is important and urgent

GAJE is attempting to help make Jewish education in the GTA affordable. To be embraced by families that education must be affordable and held in high esteem – seen to be important for its own sake as the one of the key ways by which Jewish continuity will be achieved. It must also be seen to be excellent.

This means of course that our schools must be run efficiently. They must integrate best practices as well as the best technology affordable. In addition, of course, and perhaps most important, they must employ the best teachers possible.

Joshua Seth Ladon , Bay Area Manager for the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and a doctoral student in Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, recently wrote a compelling meditation about teaching that appeared on the Times of Israel website. Ladon unambiguously writes, “teaching is a job that feels deeply important, urgent.” How very true. We commend the article.

Let us never forget that excellent teachers are the backbone of the educational system- all educational systems – into whose care we place our children each day.

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The Tishrei autumn holiday period comes to an end this week. Chag Samayach. Shabbat Shalom. Soon back to work in a normal, non-truncated work schedule.

Be well.
GAJE

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An opportunity for educators to innovate new educational ideas

The imperative to make Jewish education more affordable requires us to reimagine the funding of the overall system. It also requires us to reimagine the delivery of education.

Education can and must be delivered efficiently and responsibly, in a manner that incorporates the very best of established practices with the very best of new, innovative, technologically advanced practices.

The excellence of the education must be manifest to all so that young families will never be reluctant to seek affordable “Jewish education” for their children.

Many organizations and groups are now engaged in trying to ensure that Jewish education is indeed manifestly excellent to all who seek it.

For example, The Davidson School at JTS, with the support of the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, is launching a yearlong Fellowship in Educating for Applied Jewish Wisdom to attract educators “to co-create exemplary educational models” in the broad field of Jewish education.

The creators of the fellowship ask: “What are the best ways to educate the rising generations of Jews so that they can glean meaning, purpose, and even happiness from the Jewish tradition? How will all these inspire and enable Jews to shape a better world that supports the thriving of all of us?”

We hope that the educators accepted to this program find answers to these questions.

We urge educators from our community to get involved in seeking out the answers and in finding ways to implement them for our children and grandchildren.

The article announcing the creation of the fellowship can be found at:

http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/from-crisis-to-an-opportunity-to-thrive-announcing-the-fellowship-in-educating-for-applied-jewish-wisdom/

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Chag Samayach and Shabbat Shalom.

Be well.
GAJE

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Parents Tell Their Stories

We would like to share personal stories about how the affordability issue has affected families in our community. We will post these stories anonymously on our Facebook page and on our website.

We will not include any personal information such as names, schools, other institutions, or any other identifying information. We reserve the right to edit all submissions.

To share your story, either send us a message on our Facebook page or email us @ info @ gaje.ca.

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