South Dundas - June 3, 2014 - Is the Province of Ontario a mature enough province,
to finally change how our education system functions? Has the time
come for there to be one publicly-funded education system in Ontario?
First, consider why there is a separate and a public school system in
Ontario. When Canada was created 147 years ago, Section 93 of the
Constitution Act, 1867, stated that education was the exclusive right
of the provinces to determine. It also stated that in cases of
religious minorities in a province, they have the right to protection
for their school. In 1867, there was the Protestant and the
Roman-Catholic systems reflecting the two largest religious groups at
In time however, the Protestant system morphed into the Public
Education system. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, religion was
dropped from the Public System as Ontario’s population became more
diverse. The Roman-Catholic system did evolve and under Bill Davis in
the 1980’s received full funding for secondary school. This completed
the change to Ontario, to having four publicly funded streams: English
Public, French Public, English Roman-Catholic and French
Roman-Catholic. Four distinct school systems teaching the same
It is a waste of money and valuable resources to have four distinct
school systems teaching the same thing. In recent years, the four
systems now compete with each other to get students. The push for
All-Day-Kindergarten implementation highlighted that, where boards
pushed up start dates to attract parents. The introduction of
French-Immersion programs in different communities, neighbouring
communities, also has spurred this competition. Public and Catholic
schools in communities now compete for the same students and yes,
parents get choices. However that can backfire as well.
In rural schools, there are now stigmas attached to certain schools.
Ones that don’t have French-Immersion are seen by some as being the
lesser school in the community. More and more parents are placing
their kids in Roman-Catholic schools, despite their religion. The
perception for parents is that one system has more resources, etc,
than the other. Having four children, and having had them in BOTH
systems, I myself can admit to that.
Rural schools now are facing needless duplication of resources and
endless cannibalizing of each other’s student populations. It happens
at the urban level too. It is at the point now where this duplication
is making a mockery of why we even have separate school systems.
The Jonathan Erazo case, where a father fought to have this son go to a Roman-Catholic
High School, but be exempt from religious classes, is just the latest
example of this. What is the point of going to a Roman-Catholic
school, when you do not go to the religious classes that is the whole
point of having a separate school?
In the case of Erazo, and many parents I have talked to, they want
their kids to go to the perceived “Better School”. Who doesn’t want
the best for their kids?
Does this competition between schools help, or harm the students who
are attending though? My wife and I moved our own children from the
Public to the Catholic system because of requiring resources for a
child with special needs and our struggle in the Public Board to get
them. Six years later, we moved our kids back to the Public system for
that same reason. Both moves were made based on what our children's
needs were at the time, and what resources were available where.
But if Ontario had ONE public school system, without the duplication
of administration for four systems teaching the same curriculum, how
much more money would be freed up for resources for teaching children?
Instead of parents fundraising to put SmartBoards in classrooms, the
schools would already have such equipment. Without the duplication of
resources in managing four school systems, there would be more money
available for Education Assistants, Applied Behavior Analysis(ABA) and
Intensive Behavioural Intervention(IBI) programs. Instead of waiting
lists, there would be help when kids need it. And that’s just for
those who have learning issues. What about resources for students who
High school-aged students are forced in smaller schools to take
university preparatory courses via correspondence because there are
not enough students in the school to merit running the course. If high
school students were not being busses all over the countryside to go
to various schools, population numbers would be higher, thus
increasing the likelihood of courses being run.
Rural schools would benefit from not having a declining population
being split and bussed between communities based on the programs
required. Less time on the bus means more time at home with family, or
in the classroom. Not having to bus children from one town to another
based on school choices would mean less transportation costs.
It would be a radical change to how education would be handled in
Ontario. It has been done before. Both Quebec and Newfoundland &
Labrador switched to school systems organized on linguistic, rather
than religious and linguistic lines. In talking with parents I know
both in Quebec and in Newfoundland, the changes have been beneficial.
To be clear, merging publicly-funded school systems would only work if
there was a complete separation between church and state when it comes
to education, meaning all religion needs to be removed from schools.
This means no religious instruction in the classroom, no prayer rooms,
etc. Religious instruction, regardless of faith, denomination or sect,
would be handled by those teachers best able to handle that, the
religious teachers of that particular religion. The educational
instruction, would be handled by the teachers of a public system. The
side benefit for religious leaders is, if parents have to take
responsibility again for the religious teaching of their children,
instead of leaving it up to state-funded schools, attendance in the
pews should increase as well.
Sadly, none of the political parties in serious contention this
provincial election, will touch this issue with a 10-foot poll. The
Liberals and NDP would face alienating their union-centric base which
supports the status quo, and the Progressive Conservatives have
already gone down this road with education funding in 2007, which cost
John Tory the election. It is unfortunate that no one will even
discuss this issue, when Ontario faces the record deficits and debt
that it does.
How much better could the education system in Ontario be, if we got
rid of the administrative duplication and waste? How much more would
our kids benefit from an education where the resources are in place
for every kid to succeed in school?