In British Columbia today, most parents of children attending independent schools have no memory of what it is like to have no government funding for their education, according to Henry Contant, executive director of the Society of Christian Schools in British Columbia (SCSBC).
The B.C. government has been funding independent schools for 30 years.
Contant attributes the success of the B.C. independent school movement in gaining government funding to four factors: a strong, united lobby voice, a solid partnership with government, the Federation of Independent School Associations (FISA) growing reputation among all education stakeholders as the voice of reason and fairness, and the Independent School Act (ISA).
There are five groups of independent schools in B.C., of which SCSBC is one. These five groups have worked together under the umbrella of FISA for the past 41 years. The federation acts as spokesman for its members in B.C., and as a liaison between the schools and the government, and other educational institutions.
“I think the fact that we have been able to speak as a united voice has been very significant in that the Federation of Independent School Associations represents just under 11 per cent of the students enrolled in schools in B.C.,” says Contant.
Building positive political alliances and relationships with government appears to have played an important part in obtaining and maintaining government support as well, according to Contant.
“We have not taken our provincial government to court on any issues,” he says. “We have worked very hard over the last 40 years and continue to just build solid relationships with MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) in our provincial government, party leaders, and the Ministry of Education so that they understand the importance and the contribution that independent schools have made in British Columbia.”
He highlights that independent schools need to be able to work with all political parties, not lobby one against the other
“I think that has led to success in our regard.”
B.C. has also had an Independent School Act since 1977, revised in 1989, which provides legislative support for independent schools. The act is a separate piece of legislation that governs and protects the right of the existence of independent schools in B.C.
Contant, a former Ontario teacher, is quick to point out that while these factors have led to success in B.C., one can’t be simplistic and say that if Ontario had done the same, similar results would have been achieved.
“I’m fully aware that there is a different political climate, different situation, in Ontario,” he says, noting that in B.C. Catholic schools are funded the same way as the other independent schools which means there is a much larger independent school body.
This is obviously not the case in Ontario.
“We certainly offer a lot of encouragement to the independent schools in Ontario,” says Contant.
“I think the Ontario Alliance schools have done an incredible job of fundraising at the local community level, considering the fact that parents are also paying higher tuition fees since they receive no government funding for independent schools.”