Now is the right time to fix Ontario’s outdated education system. Although we can take pride in the achievements of our students, we have to ask ourselves whether it is fair, equitable and responsible to fund one religious school board in addition to a public school board.
There are two compelling reasons to move to a single French and English public school system now.
First, Ontario faces a major financial challenge. We need to get the province’s record $16 billion budget deficit and approximately $240 billion accumulated debt–$17,946 per person–under control without gutting important public services. This effort will not be easy.
Efficiency and equity should guide deficit reduction. Education is the second highest spending category in the provincial budget. In a time of budget restraint, it makes sense to eliminate duplication in administration, buildings, and transportation so that our limited resources are focused on maximizing quality education for our children.
With the Drummond report on reforming the public service scheduled to be released next week, Ontario’s funding of a separate religious school board should be on the table as we look for efficiencies in the delivery of public services. It is neither efficient nor equitable to fund a separate school system for one religion.
Second, the opposition of Catholic Trustees to Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs highlights the pitfalls of using public dollars to fund religious schools in a diverse society. This response to the province’s proposed anti-bullying legislation certainly isn’t welcoming or supportive of providing gay students with a safe and welcoming school environment.
It is simply wrong for the province to fund public institutions that are not open and inclusive of all Ontarians. It is especially wrong to publicly fund schools that resist efforts to create a safe and positive learning environment for all students.
If Catholic schools believe that GSAs violate their religious freedom, they should not accept public money. This way a clear separation of church and state is maintained.
All Ontarians fund our school system. It is the government’s job to ensure that all Ontarians have equal access to the system and that the public has a voice in how our money is spent.
Change, especially change with such deep community, historical and Constitutional roots, will not be easy. But if provinces such as Quebec and Newfoundland & Labrador can do it, so can Ontario.
Since schools play an essential role in educating our children and in strengthening our communities, broad public participation is needed to reform the system. The Green Party supports a citizen’s assembly or public commission to involve parents, staff, students and community leaders in determining the best way forward toward a modern single public French and English school system.
Today’s social and financial pressures make 2012 the right time to fix the inequity of Ontario’s separate school system.
Watch Mike Schreiner on The Agenda discussing the one school board issue, http://theagenda.tvo.org/episode/141125/separate-with-equal-school-funding