CIJA renews effort to alleviate school funding squeeze

Leo Baeck day school
Leo Baeck day school

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) will push for public money for Jewish day schools through a newly launched task force meant to help address the affordability crisis in Jewish education.

Although lobbying the government for public support for all faith-based schools is not a new concept, Noah Shack, CIJA’s director of public policy and chair of the Affordable Jewish Education Task Force, said the group will not take the same approach that has failed in the past.

“There is a recognition that core funding for Jewish education is not going to be forthcoming from the public sector any time soon, and we need to look at different near-term objectives,” Shack said.

“Those can include funding for health and social service-related activities that the schools are engaged in, or security expenses that the schools have – those are the types of things we think there could be some space for the public sector to really help to alleviate the cost borne by schools and parents and to make Jewish education more affordable in that way,” he added.

“Unfortunately, there is a lot of experience with initiatives to try to make education more affordable that have failed. We want to bring together as many people as possible from diverse viewpoints from across the community to co-ordinate a strategy that makes the most sense for the most people, to work together to achieve some results.”

One of the groups CIJA is consulting is Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education, formed earlier this year to help parents who can’t afford Jewish education for their children.

Former CJN editor Mordechai Ben-Dat, a co-founder of the group, said he’s encouraged the organized Jewish community is putting affordability back on the agenda. “We’re going to help them if we can. It doesn’t matter to us who moves the ball up the hill, as long as it’s moving up the hill,” Ben-Dat said.

Shack said that as the advocacy agency of the Jewish federations, CIJA will focus on the issue from a public sector perspective. “We’re looking at what support the government can give to our educational institutions – what budget areas for our schools can we secure some funding for. It’s not going to be for the core curriculum, but maybe for the other things that can help lower costs for the schools and lower tuition for students.”

Ben-Dat said one area CIJA could tackle has to do with children with disabilities attending private schools, noting that the province may not provide funding for all students who need it.

“We have two sets of regulations – one under the health act and one under the education act. Under the health act, the government pays for health support services for disabled children in private schools.”

The province’s School Health Support Services program includes nursing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology and dietetics.

Ben-Dat explained that when a child has a stutter, the government will pay for treatment under the health act, but if a child has a different speech impediment that’s determined to be a learning disability that’s categorized under the education act, the private school would be forced to cover any extra costs.

“This is an opening for us. It makes no sense to have two sets of regulations… Here we have disabled children in our backyard, and it is unconscionable that if you’re under the health act, you get something, but if you’re under the education act, you do not,” Ben-Dat said.

“If CIJA can help recover or abate the costs for schools in this area… then that is tremendous.”

Shack said the first meeting, which will be held at the end of the month, will be an opportunity to hear from community experts about how best to move forward.

“Our expectations are muted, because of our previous experiences, but the failures of the past have galvanized the people who have been involved in this struggle. I think more and more people are on the same page about how to move forward and the need to move forward in concert, together. There may not be uniformity in terms of people’s opinions, but there is unity of purpose, and I think that is the key to achieving results here,” Shack said.

For more information, or to get involved, email [email protected].