Independent schools meet an important need

Cardus, the Canadian independent think tank recently published an article on its website entitled “Independent schools meet an important need”. The story resulted from the refusal of a school board in rural Ontario to sell an empty school building to the highest bidder because the bidder was a denominational (Christian) independent school.

We refer to the story not for the details of the refusal but rather for some of the observations and heartening truths noted by the authors, Brian Dijkema and David Hunt, about the necessity and the importance – for society and for individual families – of easing access to independent school education.

These observations and truths apply to the situation of families in independent Jewish schools:

• “The preponderance of evidence – 24 of 26 rigorous studies – finds public schools actually improve when parents have alternative options, such a debate misses the forest for the trees.”

• “Ontario independent schools are not in competition with public schools. All K-12 education is intended for public good, as it is of benefit to not only the students and families directly involved but society as a whole, even when administered independently.”

• “Research shows that students from independent schools…are major contributors to their communities. In Ontario they are 2.5 times more likely than the average student to collect and deliver food to the needy, 2.1 times more likely to coach or referee on local sports teams, and 2.4 times as likely to be involved in teaching or mentoring youth in their community.”

• “Both independent and public schools meet different needs in important ways, making us all better off.”

“Diversity of needs requires a diversity of delivery systems, so that all kids have a fair chance at a quality education. This is what Cardus found in its recent study, “Who Chooses Ontario Independent Schools and Why?

• “Most independent school parents are regular, middle-class Ontarians. And the overwhelming majority went to public school themselves. Many tried public school for their kids, but for a seemingly endless variety of reasons, it didn’t work out. Their child needed something different.
Surprisingly, academic performance – a key determinant of economic growth that is front-of-mind for researchers, government, and many voters – did not top parents’ priorities. Although important, parents prioritize independent schools in Ontario for their safety, supportive and nurturing environment, and character development.”

• “Despite their ordinary means and paying taxes to the public system, the study found parents will make almost any additional financial sacrifice to ensure their child gets the education she or he needs: extra jobs, taking on loans, giving up vacations, even asking family or friends for help. And, for one in fifteen Ontario families, this means enrolling in an independent school. They also want to be respected and listened to.”

There is a great deal of evidence – educational and financial ­– that demonstrates that the public educational system is enhanced when independent schools are included, to some extent at least, into the public school realm.

Brian Dijkema is vice-president of external affairs and David Hunt is a researcher and B.C. director at think tank Cardus.

Shabbat shalom.

GAJE


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Seeing ourselves as part of the story

Once again, in our weekly update, we must note a remark by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that is so very apt to our purpose that it compels re-emphasizing. In his commentary on this week’s Torah portion, Bo, Rabbi Sacks concisely encapsulates the purpose of Jewish education.

Collective memory through storytelling, Rabbi Sacks points out, has been the key to the survival of our religion, our values and our way of life. This observation leaps out especially clearly in relation to the “the Exodus story, whose frame and context is set out in parshat Bo”. He notes that in three discrete instances in the Torah portion, children are central to the story. “[T]he Sages held that the narrative of Seder night should be told in response to a question asked by a child wherever possible. If we are the story we tell about ourselves, then as long as we never lose the story, we will never lose our identity.”

Implicit in his remark is the formidable conclusion that the way to “never lose the story” of the Exodus is to perpetually ensure that it also becomes the story of each subsequent generation.

The Exodus from Egypt, of course, is not the only story we tell our children and hope in their turn they will be able to pass forward to their children as well. It is, however, the pre-eminent story that is central to the theology that underpins our history.

Rabbi Sacks bids us to guard, protect and then hand the story on. We all have a responsibility to do so. “I believe that I am a character in our people’s story,” Rabbi Sacks writes, “with my own chapter to write, and so are we all. To be a Jew is to see yourself as part of that story, to make it live in our time, and to do your best to hand it on to those who will come after us.”

How insightful and prescriptive a description of the purpose of Jewish education! But to enable us to write our own chapter in the ongoing Jewish story and to see ourselves as part the story, as Rabbi Sacks urges, Jewish education must be affordable to the majority.

Shabbat shalom.

GAJE

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Stand up, stand tall

In his commentary on this week’s Torah portion, Va’era, Rabbi Marc D. Angel provides a very powerful insight into merely five words of the Hebrew text.

God instructs Moses: “Rise up early in the morning and stand [tall] before Pharaoh… (Shemot, 9:13)”

Quoting different authorities, Rav Angel, urges us to find inspiration, courage and meaning in God’s concise instruction. He suggests that the true meaning of these few spoken words is to bid us, all, not to bend our heads – figuratively and literally – in deference to seemingly impossible situations of suffering and especially to perpetrators of that suffering. In the commentary, Rav Angel applies God’s directive as a primer for personal conduct when facing decisive, large, watershed societal moments.

GAJE too can apply Rav Angel’s insight.

The challenge to help make Jewish education in our community more affordable is indeed daunting. But we must not be daunted. As God urged Moses, we too must “stand tall”, unbowed, and unafraid before the task.

And so we shall.

Shabbat shalom.

••• Rabbi Angel’s commentary is available at:https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?shva=1#inbox/FMfcgxwGCkmWFPZXQRTnHQLGBZRsCgrT

GAJE, January 24, 2020

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Acting today to change tomorrow

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is widely known for the inspiring insights he pulls from the weekly Torah portion. His commentary on this week’s portion, Shemot, is a striking illustration of how the rabbi’s wisdom can be the jet stream, pulling us forward to the horizon we seek.

The departure point for his commentary this week is the response by God when Moses asks Him how he should identify God when the people ask His name? God replied: “Ehyeh asher ehyeh” (Ex. 3:14). “It means ‘I will be what, where, or how I will be’, Rabbi Sacks writes. “The essential element of the phrase is..the future tense. God is defining Himself as the Lord of history who is about to intervene in an unprecedented way…” 

Typically, Rabbi Sacks mines various meanings from the rich and rewarding veins of language and concept that fill the parsha. He imparts a key message that is relevant for GAJE’s mission and for the wider community in trying to make Jewish education affordable. 

“The future is the sphere of human freedom… I cannot change yesterday but I can change tomorrow by what I do today,” Rabbi Sacks wrote.

We can indeed achieve our goal. We can indeed change tomorrow by determining today and acting today to make Jewish education affordable.

If we but will it, it will be no dream.

Shabbat shalom.

••• Rabbi Sacks’ article is available at: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?shva=1#inbox/FMfcgxwGCkmWFPZXQRTnHQLGBZRsCgrT

GAJE, January 17, 2020

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Educational funding should be in line with the rest of Canada

The New Year brings new resolve.

As we have written previously in this space, GAJE is moving forward with an attempt to have the law move with the times to compel the government of Ontario to partially fund the cost of education in the province’s independent schools.

We are not asking Ontario to embark on a revolutionary educational funding policy. Rather, we are asking Ontario merely to conform to the funding policies of the next five largest provinces in Canada, indeed with the educational funding policies of many western European countries. Moreover, as the experience in British Columbia shows, extending partial funding to the independent schools actually is a more efficient use of public funds and ultimately yields better educational results due to the competition faced by the public schools to establish and maintain educational excellence.

In resolving to pursue a legal remedy to help abate the unconscionable financial hardship faced by our young families, most of whom pay an enormous price – not all of it financial – to enrol their children in day school, we are mindful of and grateful for the important funding and lobbying initiatives underway by the community also aimed at making Jewish education affordable. But we believe that there is room and indeed an obligation to try to move the law as well as part of a multi-pronged effort to secure the future of our schools as well as the future of the community.

We perceive this also to be a matter of fundamental fairness and justice. What works in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec, should also work in Ontario.

We must not be afraid to bring the situation to the attention of the Ontario public. Nor should we be reluctant to call upon the courts to bring Ontario’s educational funding in line with the diverse life in the province, indeed, in Canada in the year 2020.  As in the other provinces, we should no longer be bound, fully chained, to an outdated educational funding policy.

In the weeks and months ahead GAJE will call upon the public to assist in funding this legal initiative.

GAJE, January 12, 2020

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Building a firm financial footing for day schools

As most observers have known for some time, day school affordability is the preeminent subject on the agenda of many North American Jewish communities, as it is in the GTA. From time to time, we have used this space to feature articles and discussion pieces from other jurisdictions on the subject. We begin 2020 by drawing attention to a recent op-ed by Dror Futter entitled When Dreams Meet Reality that appeared last week in the Jewish Link (of New Jersey). Futter is a day school activist and father of three alumni of Bergen County day schools.

“Although not perfect, I strongly believe the day schools are the crown jewels of our community and the key to both who we are as a community and our continued growth, Futter wrote. “Everyone talks about the ‘tuition crisis’ in the same resigned tones normally reserved for discussions about the weather. What we have now is not a crisis, it is a chronic condition that imposes a great deal of hardship and which we have done little to improve. However, in the next downturn, this situation could quickly morph into a full-blown crisis. To be clear, it was only because of the relatively quick economic upturn in 2010 that our day school system survived intact.”

Borrowing upon biblical Joseph’s wisdom, Futter calls for a centralized mechanism in his area to facilitate a comprehensive plan “to weather the next economic downturn” and put the day schools on a firm financial footing. He then offers recommendations for the mission and composition of such a planning body.

Thankfully, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and CIJA are already engaged in the very planning that Futter urges. But there is also a responsibility that falls on the rest of the community and work for us to do as a result.

GAJE sees part of its work in this regard to use the legal system to help bring about a change in Ontario’s funding polices toward independent schools.

Our hope is that this year will bring us closer to our goal. We have begun the process of raising funds to underwrite the lawsuit.

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Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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Lower tuition means higher enrolment

The recent article in The CJN entitled More Students Applying To Jewish High School in Toronto is an appropriate springboard for diving, fully confident of mission and means, into the New Year and the new decade.

The information contained in the article once again provides empirical proof of the proposition that level of enrolment in Jewish day school is directly tied to level of tuition.

The enrolment at TanenbaumCHAT has steadily increased since it implemented a revolutionary 5-year program in 2017 reducing tuition from almost $30,000, to under $20,000.

There are a number of heartening details in the article:

• The school’s enrolment next year is expected to be 1,060, compared with 1,015 this year.

• Some 85 per cent of children graduating from the community’s Jewish elementary schools will likely apply for admission to the school for the 2020-21. This figure compares with 57% three years ago.

• Some 350 students have applied for entry into its Grade 9 program for 2020-21. Of this number, 80 applicants are from non-Jewish elementary schools.

Jonathan Levy, CHAT’s head of school, made the very important point that tuition has undoubtedly brought more students into school but the students remain in the school because of the school’s positive academic environment and the excellence of the education it provides.

Levy justifiably “gave credit to the community, especially UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, for its strong and continued support for accessible Jewish education.”

Though the tuition at TanenbaumCHAT is now approximately two thirds the amount it was three years ago, it and the tuition at the feeder schools are still too high for many families, especially for multi-children families.

Community leaders are fully engaged in attempting to secure the future of our day schools. It falls to all of us however to play our part as well. As The CJN noted, “the school is working to secure more funding to keep tuition rates low, after the funding for the initial five-year subsidy runs out. That includes its announced tuition accessibility program, which includes maximum tuitions for the two succeeding years and lower costs for families with lower financial means.”

GAJE too has deployed to help make Jewish education more affordable. As we reported in this space, we will soon embark on an effort to have the courts re-assess and hopefully revise the 1996 Supreme Court decision that permitted the government of Ontario to adopt its unfair educational funding policies toward independent schools.

Let’s hope that the coming year will bring us closer to success.

The CJN article is available at: https://www.cjnews.com/news/canada/more-students-applying-to-jewish-high-school-in-toronto

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Shabbat Shalom. Happy, healthy, successful New Year

GAJE, December 27, 2019

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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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