Busting open the door to lower day school tuition

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Toronto’s Jewish community owes a tremendous collective thank-you to the Jesin-Neuberger family for their $10-million dollar gift, and to an anonymous donor for a gift of $5 million. Some $14 million of that will go toward reducing tuition at the Anne and Max Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto by more than one-third over the next five years, making it the largest single gift dedicated to tuition reduction ever made to Jewish education in Canada.

This gift opens the door for many to remain in the day school system, as instead of tuition rising by some $12,000 from middle to high school, tuition will now be little more than it was in Grade 8.

It also allows many who have never attended day school to join TanenbaumCHAT’s “New Stream” program, designed specifically for those with limited or no prior formal Jewish education.

As wonderful as these two multimillion dollar gifts are – and they are wonderful – they only begins to open the door to solving the tuition crisis. While tuition of $18,500 is much more affordable than the almost $30,000 it would otherwise be, for many families, it’s still unaffordable.


A family earning $175,000 with one child at TanenbaumCHAT and two in elementary school will still pay more than $50,000 a year in tuition fees. This gift does nothing to address the cost of middle school and, most importantly, of elementary school, where so many make the decision not to enrol in day school. Much of the decline in high school numbers is a direct result of dropping enrolment in elementary schools. And sadly, while not directly linked, at the same time tuition is dropping at TanenbaumCHAT, its northern campus is being closed due to declining enrolment over the past number of years.

It’s most unrealistic to assume the tuition crisis can be solved with $15 million. Yet the door of tuition assistance is ajar, and we must all work together to open it far and wide. Better yet, we must remove the door completely. 

Nothing breeds success more than success. If 50, 100 or 200 students who were planning to go to public school enrol in TanenbaumCHAT, not only will hundreds begin a lifelong journey of Jewish engagement, it will be much easier to attract new donors who can be confident their dollars will make a real difference.

I urge every one of you – yes, this means you – to speak to one family who has a child who could be at TanenbaumCHAT but is not, and encourage them to consider the tremendous benefits of a Jewish education. Even those whose interest in Jewish education may be minimal may not realize the great success TanenbaumCHAT graduates have as they move on to university and beyond.


One feature of these gifts that breaks new ground – one I really like – is that the money is dedicated to a single school. It would be great if the funds could go to all Jewish schools. However, that would dilute its impact, as tuition would likely be reduced by much less across the board as a result.

We all understand the value of competition, and we all benefit when a major player announces a drop in “prices.” It would be wonderful if, as a result of these donations, other schools will be forced to lower tuition to compete. I’d love to hear that millions of dollars were given to one elementary school to cut tuition in half, or by some $7,500 a child – if not for all, then for those who need it most. It would force donors at other schools to come forward to compete. “Consumers” – in this case the Jewish community – would be the beneficiaries. 

Our community is just too big to spread the proceeds of one donation to all. By targeting donations to one school, we can solve this crisis grade by grade, school by school. 

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