If you want to talk about streamlining public education, it’s good to have the facts.
Ontario currently has 4 main publicly-funded school systems: English Public, English Catholic, French-language Public and French-language Catholic. English Catholic elementary schools are only open to students who are baptized as Roman Catholic and to children who have 1 or 2 Roman Catholic parents, although exceptions are sometimes made on an individual basis. There is also a small public-funded Protestant Separate School Board in Penetanguishene with just one school.
It’s really a matter of what’s best for Ontario’s students. Having one public, secular school system for English and French instead of the current five systems would reduce the bureaucracy and the duplication of services that exist today. It should also eliminate the practice of school boards spending public money on for-profit advertisers to recruit students to their particular school system. That would free up money to help make all our schools the best they can be. Some estimates say we’d save up to a billion dollars a year to reinvest in education.
It’s also a question of what’s right for today’s multi-cultural Ontario. In this day and age, it just doesn’t seem right that taxpayers have to pay for two very expensive Catholic school systems that are meant only for students of one religion.
First, we need to get the decision-makers to agree to move to one public system for English and French. This would require the Ontario Legislature to have the will to introduce legislation to make the change. Because the five existing systems are currently recognized by the Constitution, it would only require the approval of Parliament in Ottawa and the Ontario Legislature in Toronto to make the change to the Constitution to pave the way to establishing a single school system in the province. There would be a lot of work to do, and it would take time to make the transition. But this has happened in other provinces in the recent past and we can draw from their experiences to make the transition work for our students, our parents, our education workers and our province.
Prior to Confederation, schools were primarily run by churches and religious organizations. Before Canada became a country in 1867, a separate school system had already been established in pre-Confederation Ontario, known at that time as Canada West. As part of the negotiations to create Canada, maintaining a separate Catholic school system was part of the deal. Therefore, when Ontario joined Canada in 1867, the established Catholic school system was maintained and recognized under the new Constitution. In Quebec, similar protections for religious schools were in place upon joining Canada.
However, the other two of the original four provinces from Confederation took a different route. Nova Scotia reformed its education system in 1864 by withdrawing its support for religious schools and went to a single, secular system. In 1871, New Brunswick created a publicly-funded secular school system after joining Confederation and did not fund religious schools.
In Ontario and a few other provinces, it is. In fact, under the Constitution, the Protestant and Catholic religions are recognized as having education rights, but not any other religion. Catholic education in Ontario was preserved under the Constitution because it had been established by law prior to the province joining Confederation. In some provinces, however, that right did not exist prior to them joining Canada, such as British Columbia.
Under the Constitution, provinces have the exclusive authority over public education and how it is funded. Some provinces, such as Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, were able to get constitutional amendments made to move away from publicly-funding Catholic schools and set up non-denominational systems. Ontario would only need the provincial Legislature to pass such an amendment, and then have the Parliament of Canada pass the same amendment to move us to one publicly-funded school system for English and French.
Quebec had school boards that were either Roman Catholic or Protestant (called “confessional schools”). In 1997, the Quebec government and Parliament passed an amendment to the Constitution to allow them to establish linguistic-based schools in either French or English. Newfoundland had multiple religious school boards running in the province until 1998, when they moved to a single, non-denominational system.
Some provinces do continue to partially or fully fund Catholic schools. In most of these cases, government funding will only be provided if numbers warrant a Catholic school to be established, and then they function like “private schools” outside of the established public school system. Alberta and Saskatchewan are two provinces that fully fund a separate Catholic school system. Both provinces fund Francophone school systems. Alberta uses public funds for private schools as well.
With declining enrollment occurring across the province over the past decade, many schools have empty, unused classrooms. This is why school boards have resorted to spending public funds for ads to attract students to their particular system. In some cases, you have a Catholic school and a public school directly across the street from each other and both are half empty. In situations like this, creating one school system would mean merging two or more under-capacity schools into one, which is a good thing. Full schools mean more programs, more caring adults in the building, and more opportunities for students when it comes to educational programing and extra-curricular activities. So depending on where you are, school closures could happen, but the remaining schools would be better utilized and more effective.
A majority of Ontarians have supported the idea of having one school system in Ontario offered in both official languages. Polling over the past few years has shown that a majority of those who live in Ontario do not support the continued funding of the Catholic school system, and that it is time to move to one public system. Here is just a small sample of what people have to say about moving toward a single school system in Ontario:
Greg Sorbara – Former Provincial Cabinet Minister
Joshua Ostroff – Senior Editor – Huffington Post Canada
Forum Research Poll – Majority oppose public funding for Catholic schools (July 2015)
UN says funding of Catholic schools discriminatory – CBC, November 1999
Charles Pascal – Former Ontario Deputy Minister of Education
It is important that all Ontarians have a serious conversation about moving forward toward establishing a single school system in Ontario offered in both English and French. These conversations have to take place at all levels; with your family, neighbours, and, most importantly, with the politicians that have ability to make the change.
Here are some things that you can do to start those conversations:
- Read and sign on to our Charter for Public Education, and then share it with your family and friends
- Talk to your MPP by sending them a message, and arrange to speak with them about the importance of establishing a single school system
- Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, and share those conversations with others