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It's time for one public education system in Ontario
By Phillip Blancher
OurHometown.ca

It
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? Yes.
PHOTO CREDIT - theNextFamily.com

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? Yes.

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 the time.

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 curriculum.

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 truly excel?

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?

Follow Me on TwitterPhillip Blancher is a writer, web geek and communications professional by trade. He has written for a number of publications in Eastern Ontario and Northern New York State and also was a weekly morning show contributor for two area radio stations. As a resident of South Dundas for the last seven years, this long-time political buff has taken on an appreciation of small-town/rural life while also being a father of four and a soccer coach. Blancher's columns on OurHometown.ca will cover a range of his interests from politics, parenthood, local history and on his favourite NHL team, the Buffalo Sabres. If you have questions or wish to contact Phillip, you can email him at pblancher@ourhometown.ca






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